January 10, 2011

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011

viagra headache color="#000000">Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011 color="#000000">Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011Those important computer tasks—like securing, cleaning, and backing up—are like any other resolution: we all say we're going to do them but rarely keep up with them all year. Here's our simple guide to staying on track in 2011.

Keeping your computer in good shape gets to be tedious and annoying when you have to try to fit it in to your busy schedule. Rather than letting things slip through the cracks and watch your computer slow to a crawl, fall victim to a nasty virus, or crash and burn with no backups, we've put together everything you need to tackle to stay on top of all your computer maintenance tasks. Here are the four things we're going to look at (feel free to click to skip to any of the sections):

Back Up Automatically

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011
Backing up our data is something we all know is important but many of us do not do. In the past you might've been able to get away with the excuse of inconvenience, but nowadays it's so effortless that if you're not backing up, you should make it your first order of business for the new year.

A good backup system will duplicate your important data in three places. One of them can be your computer, another can be an external hard drive that you keep in your house, but one of those three places should exist outside of your home. Local backups (like backing up to an external USB drive) protect you if a hard drive dies, but not if your house is robbed, catches fire, or you fall victim to any other incredibly fun disaster you can imagine. While these are rare circumstances, the effects are devastating. Since backup is so easy, there's really no sense in taking the risk. First we'll take a look at backing up to the cloud, which requires essentially no effort at all, and then we'll consider your options for each specific operating system so you can have a local copy on an external drive as well.

Backing Up to the Cloud

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011As long as your work doesn't consist of serious data creation, I'm of the opinion that you can use Dropbox for all your backup needs, especially now that it includes selective sync. I used Dropbox toorganize my home folder and sync my iTunes library to multiple computers and it works great. While Dropbox can take care of just about everything I want backed up and synced, it can't handle your applications and system files without causing problems. Also, for reasons I don't entirely understand (aside from the cost), not everyone wants to keep the majority of their stuff in their Dropbox. So, for those of you who aren't sold on Dropbox being the golden egg of cloud backup, your other best bet for off-site backup is Mozy.

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011Mozy has become a Lifehacker favorite, especially with the speed boosts and its ability to also back up to external drives. In fact, its external drive backup options make it a cross-platform tool that can pretty much handle every one of your backup needs (cloud + local drive). While I wasn't in love with Mozy when it first came about, it's now considerably faster than it was in its early days and can handle everything from one application. That's pretty tough to beat. For a full walkthrough, check out our guide to setting up a foolproof and fireproof automatic backup plan with Mozy.

Backing Up to a Local Drive

NOTE: While we're not going to get picky about the brand of drive you use, make sure you get one that's a bit bigger than your computer's drive if you want to save multiple backups.

While Mozy can back up to an external drive nicely, you may prefer a backup tool with a larger feature-set that's more tailored to your operating system. Fortunately, there is no shortage of backup software available for every operating system. We've narrowed down the pool and have a few options for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, that should cover all your local backup needs.

Windows

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011Built into Windows 7 is the Backup and Restore Center, which Microsoft debuted in Windows Vista and has since improved in Windows 7. While it'll take more than a few clicks to set up, you're given a good number of options to control how your data is backed up. You can choose what you want to backup, where you want to back it up (including network locations), and how often you want the backup to occur. While it may not be the perfect solution for all users, it's built into Windows and pretty easy to set up.

Alternatively, you have the classic SyncBack. The SE version is free but you can pay for additional features. Nearly five years ago, Gina used SyncBack SE to set up an automatic backup plan that still works today. If Windows Backup Center doesn't quite cut it for you, SyncBack SE is a great alternative.

Mac OS X

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011One nice feature of Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6 is Time Machine, which lets you plug in a drive and just back up with no effort at all. Once it has a full copy of all your data, it will only backup the files that have changed since that original copy was made. If you want a file you lost, you can activate Time Machine and go back in time to retrieve an earlier copy of that file. Your Time Machine backup drive can also be used to restore lost data and set up a brand new Mac with all your files.

Time Machine pretty much does what it wants to do and that's that, so if you're looking for more control I'd suggest picking up Carbon Copy Cloner. It's a free backup utility that makes a bootable copy of your drive (which Time Machine does not). I use it all the time and love it. It can be as simple as selecting the drive you want to copy, but you can also selectively copy certain files. Carbon Copy Cloner is very straightforward backup software, so you're not going to find the bells and whistles you might with paid software, but if you want something simple that also offers quite a bit of control over your backup, it's an ideal choice.

Linux

For easy backups on Linux machines, Back In Time is a good solution. You can get your backup plan set up pretty quickly, and it backs up using space-saving snapshots (much like Apple's Time Machine). As far as Linux backup apps go, it's pretty easy to understand and runs great on GNOME and KDE-based Linux systems.

Secure Your Computer and Your Life Online

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011
There are a number of ways your computer can get into trouble. Whether you're dealing with viruses, online threats, or physical theft, here are some great tools to help keep you safe.

Antivirus Software

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011
For Windows, however, you don't have to look much further than Microsoft Security Essentials. There once was a day when relying on third-party antivirus software was necessary, but Microsoft put those days behind us. MSE is great at ferreting out malware, performs very well, and is free. Mac OS X and Linux users generally don't have to worry too much about viruses, so you get a pass on antivirus software. But you don't get a pass on the next category.

Online Security

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011
We've take a pretty extensive look at how to stay secure online, so read through that and you should be in pretty good shape. Additionally, you'll want to take a look at how to combat spam email, learn how to prevent someone from breaking into your Mac or Windows PC, and invade your own privacy to make sure your private information is secure.

Preventing (and Preparing for) Computer Theft

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011Prey is a wonderful, free, open-source tool that can help you track down and (potentially) recover your stolen Mac, Windows PC, or smartphone. If you're like me and you've had your laptop stolen before, you know how devastating it can be. When you lose technology with personal data, the thief doesn't only have access to your expensive hardware but a lot of information about you as well. Coming to this realization is not fun, so be smart and take the necessary steps to protect yourself from a potential theft.

For those of you with iPhones (or other iOS devices), you're lucky enough to have free access to find my iPhone. Set it up and use it! If you're don't have a recent iOS device, we've got you covered. Here's how to set up Find My iPhone on older iOS devices.

Run Regular Maintenance

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011With your data backed up and protected, you're going to want a computer that runs smoothly. Performing regular maintenance can play a big role in keeping your machine in tip-top shape. Mac OS X and Windows 7/Vista will take care of defragmenting your drive for you—so no need to take care of it yourself—but if you're running earlier versions of Windows you should check out our guides on setting up a self-repairing hard drive and setting up scheduled tasks to run your favorite cleaning tasks in the background. If you're a fan of CCleaner (the all-in-one crap cleaner for Windows), check out this guide to automating your CCleaner sessions.

For Mac users, maintenance tasks are regularly scheduled by OS X and so, technically, you don't have to do anything yourself. Nonetheless, it's in your best interest to play a hand in your system's upkeep. If you want a look at every possible option you have, definitely check out our guide on cleaning up and reviving your bloated, sluggish Mac. Alternatively, if you want to do a bit less, you can just schedule maintenance tasks in the Terminal and repair disk permissions. If you're not familiar with repairing your disk permissions, all you have to do is go into your Applications —> Utilities folder and open up Disk Utility. Inside of Disk Utility, choose the First Aid tab and then click the Repair Disk Permissions button. It'll take a few minutes and slow down the system a bit, but running this operation will help prevent little errors here and there. Running this once a month (and after any major software installation) will keep your Mac a bit happier and less prone to preventable issues.

Last, if you have a bad habit of letting your Downloads folder or Desktop get out of control, check out our guide to automatically cleaning and organizing your folders with Belvedere (or with Hazel if you're on a Mac).

Create a Tidy, Attractive Desktop

Resolved: How to Keep Your Computer Safe, Clean, and Backed Up in 2011
Once your computer is backed up, safe, clean, and running smoothly, you ought to finish up with a little fun. Your machine is, ultimately, going to be more fun to use if it's easy to navigate and looks just the way you want it to look. We've taken an extensive look at customizing your desktop, so be sure to check out those options to take on some serious customizations. Need inspiration? Check out our most popular featured desktops from 2010. If you're just looking for some simple customizations, however, you can find some excellent, distraction-free wallpaper over at Simple Desktops and great free icons at the Iconfactory.

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An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It

An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It

We've dropped the net neutrality term around here a few times, but you may not entirely understand what it's all about. Here's a primer on what net neutrality is, how it might affect you, and what you can do about it.

An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It Photo remixed from an original by The Local People Photo Archive

What is Net Neutrality?

As its name indicates, net neutrality is about creating a neutral internet. The basic principle driving net neutrality is that the internet should be a free and open platform, almost like any other utility we use in our home (like electricity). Users should be able to use their bandwidth however they want (as long as it's legal), and internet service providers should not be able to provide priority service to any corner of the internet. Every web site (whether it's Google, Netflix, Amazon, or UnknownStartup.com) should all be treated the same when it comes to giving users the bandwidth to reach the internet-connected services they prefer. Your electric company has no say over how you use your electricity—they only get to charge you for providing the electricity. Net neutrality aims to do something similar with your internet pipes.

Those against net neutrality—commonly including internet service providers (ISPs), like Comcast or AT&T—believe that, as providers of internet access, they should be able to distribute bandwidth differently depending on the service. They'd prefer, for example, to create tiers of internet service that's more about paying for priority access than for bandwidth speeds. As such, in theory, they could charge high-bandwidth services—like Netflix, for example—extra money, since their service costs more for Comcast to provide to its customers—or they could charge users, like you and me, extra to access Netflix. They can also provide certain services to you at different speeds. For example, perhaps your ISP might give preferential treatment to Hulu, so it streams Hulu videos quickly and for free, while Netflix is stuck running slowly (or we have to pay extra to access it).

What are the Arguments For Net Neutrality?

Proponents of net neutrality don't want to give the ISPs too much power because it could easily be abused. Imagine that Verizon or AT&T don't like the idea of Google Voice, because it allows you to send text messages for free using your data connection. Your cellphone carrier could block access to Google Voice from your smartphone so you're forced to pay for a texting plan from them. Or, they see that a lot of people are using Facebook on their smartphone, so even if they have the bandwidth to carry that traffic, they decide to charge you extra to access Facebook, just because they know it's in high demand and that they can make a profit.

An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It

Image via Reddit. Hit the link for the full image.

Similarly, Comcast recently got in a tiff with Netflix over its streaming video offerings, essentially telling Netflix's partners that they'd need to pay if they wanted their content delivered on their network. Comcast argued that streaming Netflix is a huge traffic burden, and if they're going to provide that service they'll need to update their infrastructure. Netflix's argument was that Comcast provides the internet, and it's Comcasts users that have requested that extra bandwidth for the services they want.

Another way to look at it: Comcast also has their own On Demand service which directly competes with Netflix—and if Comcast is allowed to divide up their service as they please, the option to give preferential treatment to their own service isn't exactly fair just because they're the internet provider. And, with Comcast and NBC looking to merge, the waters can get even murkier. The resulting superpower could give preference to all of NBC's content too, thus leaving other content providers out in the cold.

An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It

Another problem here is that while big services like Netflix could, in theory, afford to pay Comcast for using extra bandwidth, the small, lesser-known services—that could be big one day but aren't yet—can't. Really great web sites or internet services might never gain popularity merely because ISPs would have control over what kind of access users like you and me have to that service. That could greatly stifle viagra for women information innovation, and we'd likely miss out on a lot of cool new services.

What are the Arguments Against Net Neutrality?

Anti-net neutrality activists argue that internet service providers have a right to distribute their network differently among services, and that in fact, it's the ISPs that are innovating. They argue that giving preferential treatment to different services isn't a bad thing; in fact, sometimes it's necessary. In the recent Comcast/Netflix debate, they point out that if Netflix is sucking up all their bandwidth, they should be the ones to pay for the necessary updates that Comcast's systems will require because of it.

Many free market proponents are also against the idea of net neutrality, noting that Comcast and AT&T are companies like any other that should be able to compete freely, without government regulation. They themselves aren't "the internet"—they're merely a gateway the internet, and if they're each allowed to manage their networks differently, you're more likely to have competition between service providers which ultimately, they claim, is better for the users. If you don't like the fact that Netflix is slower on Comcast than it is on AT&T, you can switch to AT&T.

The problem, however, is still that ISPs could always favor their own services over others, leaving services with no connection to the ISP out in the cold. Furthermore, most people don't have much choice in who their ISP is, since in any given location there may be only one or two ISPs providing internet.

An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It

What are the Current Laws?

The Federal Communications Comission (FCC) released a new set of net neutrality rules on December 21, 2010 for internet service providers. Here's the state of net neutrality regulation as of right now:

Transparency

An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It

First and foremost, the FCC requires that ISPs publicly disclose all their network management practices, so that users can make informed decisions when purchasing internet service. That means they'd have to say what speeds it offers, what types of applications would work over that speed, how it inspects traffic, and so on. It does not necessarily mean that those disclosures will be understandable by non-tech savvy individuals—in fact, we've already seen how ISPs try to spin their "what you'll get" charts to you purchase the most expensive internet (see the misleading image above)—so this rule doesn't necessarily mean a lot to the average consumer.

No Blocking or Unreasonable Discrimination for Wired Internet

An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About ItWired ISPs—that is, providers of the internet in your home—are not allowed to outright block any legal web content, applications, or services. The FCC also notes that they aren't allowed to slow down traffic either, as this often renders a service unusable and thus is no different from outright blocking. For example, Comcast has always throttled BitTorrent downloads, but it didn't block them completely—it just slowed them down to a crawl. Under these new rules, that wouldn't be allowed either. Photo by Kelly Teague.

The new rules also do not allow wired ISPs to discriminate against legal network traffic. This means that Comcast cannot, in fact, discriminate against competitive services like Netflix or stifle free speech (by, say, discriminating against political outlets that have views different from the ISP or its parent company).

Your Smartphone Doesn't Count

Mobile ISPs, on the other hand, are not subject to the same rules. The FCC believes mobile broadband—that is, the data plan you have on your cellphone—is still young enough that it may need heavier network management than wired broadband. As such, they haven't made any broad net neutrality rules as of yet. Mobile ISPs are still prohibited from blocking services on the web that compete directly with their own, but they can continue to discriminate—which means that at any given point, you could find an internet service blocked or deliberately slowed down when accessing it from your smartphone. Furthermore, if the ISPs so choose, they could charge you extra to access certain services, like Facebook or Netflix. App stores are exempt from these rules, so the App Store and Android Market can be as closed as they want to be. So, if Apple decided that they no longer wanted Google Voice to be available in the App Store, they could remove it—even though it's a service that directly competes with AT&T.

An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It

Photo by David Fulmer.

The other group exempt from the rules are managed services—services that companies pay extra for, and thus require a higher level of service. A good example is AT&T's IPTV service—they provide television and on demand services through the internet instead of over cable or radio frequencies, and they dedicate a certain amount of their bandwidth for just those services, leaving less bandwidth for everything else. Again, this isn't intrinsically bad, but giving ISPs unlimited power to do this can lead to dangerous territory.

So Why the Fuss?

The rules as I've laid them out above offer a pretty condensed summary of the main points in the FCC's latest release, and while they seem like a big step forward (namely the neutrality rules in place for wired connections), a lot of net neutrality proponents are still unhappy. The exception for mobile broadband is a pretty big complaint, as are the exceptions for managed services. A lot of folks also argue that loopholes abound in the new rules, like the fact that all the rules are subject to "reasonable network management", which isn't very well defined. To be fair, neither side is happy with the current rules—which is to be expected in such a heavily debated issue. Proponents think the rules aren't strict enough and that the ISPs have gotten "exactly what they wanted", while the anti-net neutrality camp think that the internet companies are being too heavily regulated.

In the end, it's all about the control you, as a user, have over how you use the internet. While net neutrality's opponents argue that tiered service creates more control for the user, most of us don't see it that way—we'd like to be able to access all internet services equally, instead of having certain services given preferential treatment. After the passing of these rules, the wired internet in our homes is a bit safer, but the internet we access from our smartphones isn't. ISPs could still block, discriminate against, or charge extra for web sites and services we get on-the-go, taking control out of your hands.

If you really want to argue about the finer points, you'll want to dig into the actual FCC release, as this or any other summary isn't going to provide the nuances and specifics nearly well enough. But in general, this should give you a good idea of where we are now.

What Can I Do to Get Involved?

An Introduction to Net Neutrality: What It Is, What It Means for You, and What You Can Do About It

If you're reading this and foaming at the mouth in anger, there are a few things you can do. The FCC has a complaint system set up for citizens to voice their issues on communications-related topics.

Submit an Informal Complaint

Submitting an informal complaint is easy, as it's all done online, and anyone can do it. Right now, the form isn't exactly friendly—there don't seem to be any specific sections about the new net neutrality rules—but the FCC says they'll be making resources available for net neutrality-specific complaints. For now, Ars Technica recommends hitting "Internet Service and VoIP", then heading to "Billing, Service, Availability" and going to the online form from there.

Submit a Formal Complaint

End users can't submit formal complaints, but if you're a company or public interest group that's very concerned about the new rules (and you've got $200 to spend on the filing fee), you can file a formal complaint, which is often like a court hearing. You'll probably need a lawyer, and for most of us, the informal route is the best bet. But Ars has more information on formal complaints if you're interested.

Spread the Word

Net neutrality's a complicated issue, and a lot of people still aren't informed about what's going on. Explain the issue to your friends and family—the more people know about it, the more people that might be affected and might speak out. You can also check out each side's respective organization, SavetheInternet.com for pro-net neutrality voices and HandsOff.org for anti-net neutrality voices. They've each got a ton of links to other ways you can talk to your congresspeople, write letters and sign petitions to make your voice heard.


We here at Lifehacker are open supporters of net neutrality, but we know it's a very hot-button issue, and many of you probably have your own opinions on the subject—whether you agree with us or not. So let's get some discussion started in the comments below.

Send an email to Whitson Gordon, the author of this post, at whitson@lifehacker.com

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Cool things to do with IP Cameras

As technology marches forward, things that once cost boatloads of money or that were only used by businesses, find their way into the mainstream consumer arena for a mere pittance. One of those items is IP cameras. In this Tech Tip, we are going to take a quick look at IP camera features as well as take a look at some of the cool things that can be done with IP cameras.

A quick look at features

IP cameras come in all shapes and sizes – with a variety of features. First, what is an IP camera? Very simply, an IP camera is a camera that is designed to send video images over a network or the Internet using an “Internet Protocol” (IP) – which means that wherever you have a web browser (or sometimes, specialized software) you can watch live, streaming video. Some of the more common features are cameras that feature built-in IR (infrared) lights to see in low light situations, PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) features so that the camera can be remotely moved or zoomed in, weatherproofing for outdoor use, built-in wireless for ease of installation, high resolution lenses, high resolution image sensors and also audio (both one-way and two-way). Some will also have specialized software that allows for extra functions (such as sending e-mail alerts when movement is detected by the camera).

Cool uses

Obviously, one of the number one uses for IP cameras is use as real-time, streaming video surveillance of your home or business. Using an IP camera rather than a standard CCTV analog cameras enables you to keep an eye on your property while at home or away. It is an easy, inexpensive way to have an eye at your front door or driveway, for example. No need to even get up from the computer, simply pop in the web address for your camera and see who’s there. Many people also stream the video feed from IP cameras to their SmartPhones using third party apps (apps are available on all the popular platforms such as iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm and Symbian). Some of these apps also allow for control of the pan, tilt and zoom features that some cameras include.

Some other uses include:

  • Using it as a night time “baby cam”
  • Using it as a “nanny cam” (though this aspect is can be somewhat controversial)
  • Using during a home remodel
  • Using it to keep an eye on the backyard pool
  • Using it to keeping an eye on your pets.
  • Some people set them up as “vantage point cameras” (for weather; traffic or even as a surf cam).
    Because IP cameras tend to use better electronics than webcams, they are ideal for such Functions.

The uses are really up to you (obviously within the realms of privacy laws).

When you couple IP cameras with a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) or a Network Video Recorder (NVR), you get not only a real time video feed, but the peace of mind that having a home surveillance system with a video log can bring. An example of this was seen in Carlsbad, California (near San Diego) recently where a home burglar not only saw the camera, but conveniently pointed it at his face so that it could be run in the local newspaper. Having a DVR saved the moment for all to see. Often, this type of software or hardware is sold separately viagra for sale from a standalone IP camera (though sometimes, they are offered as part of a surveillance kit).

In Conclusion

IP Cameras come in a wide array of types. From a simple, inexpensive IP camera that only streams live video to high-end, elaborate multi-camera surveillance kits with all the bells and whistles – IP cameras offer just about everything. So if you’re simply looking for a camera to watch your driveway – or a system to keep an eye on your home, IP cameras offer an ideal solution for just about everyone!

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January 7, 2011

Four free programs to help control Windows 7



Windows 7, like all powerful operating systems, can seem a bit overwhelming and give you the feeling you've lost control.

Fortunately, there are some great utilities for taming Windows 7.

Some problems are obvious: you've got so many icons on your desktop you've given up trying to keep them organized. Other problems are more obscure — for example, why Windows takes so long to boot. And it's always good to know exactly what hardware and software are residing in your PC.

Here are four free programs that make Windows easier to control. I'm betting you'll find them as useful as I do.

Use Fences to subdivide your desktop

If you're one of those rare people who never ever put anything on their desktops, I applaud your inner neatnik. But if your screen is so packed with file and shortcut icons that you don't remember what your wallpaper looks like, Stardock's Fences (download page) can put some order back into your computing life. (Sorry, it can't do anything about your garage.)

Once installed, this utility lets you create fenced areas on your desktop by double-clicking a blank spot and right-dragging the mouse. After you've created a fence, you give it a name and drag any item on the desktop into it.

You can, for example, create one fence for programs, another for shortcuts to files, and yet another for stuff you plan to delete in the near future. (See Figure 1.) If you put more stuff into a fence than it has room for, it adds a scrollbar. (You can get rid of the scrollbar by removing items from the box or resizing the fence.)

Stardock's Fences
Figure 1. If your desktop is cluttered with dozens of icons, use Fences to corral them into organized groups.

A fenced area can be moved, renamed, or deleted. (The items that were inside the fence remain on your desktop.) Double-click the desktop, and all your fences — plus any unfenced icons — disappear. (Desktop windows remain visible.) Double-click again, and everything comes back.

If you find the double-click-and-hide feature annoying, you can turn it off in Fences' configuration box. You can also control the look of the fences, back up your desktop layout (the backups are misleadingly called "snapshots"), and pick a standardized layout.

Fences is free for personal use, but you can also purchase the U.S. $50 Pro version, which adds default fences for new icons; automatic icon organization by file type, name, and more; icon sorting within fences; plus fence transparency and other powerful features.

The Soluto solution for long boot times

It's one of Windows' most annoying problems: half the programs on your PC want to load automatically every time you boot Windows — and most continue to run in the background indefinitely, soaking up memory and CPU time. Every one of those programs slows the boot process and may even slow down Windows. But in truth, few of them should be running all of the time.

I want to emphasize: I'm not talking about those junk programs you don't want at any time; I'm talking about applications you want running only when you need them — not hanging around using valuable PC resources when you don't need those apps.

Soluto (download page) offers a remarkably easy way to deal with this problem. After you install the app and reboot your system, an odd, turn-up-the-corner-of-the-page graphic shows you that Soluto is examining the PC's boot process. (See Figure 2.) After your system is rebooted, you launch the Soluto app and it displays what it found.

Soluto corner graphic
Figure 2. Soluto's turned-page graphic tells you it's examining your PC's boot sequence.

Reporting its findings within an attractive, graphic-oriented display, Soluto tells you exactly what's launching at boot time (far more than is shown by Windows' built-in msconfig app), how much boot time this takes, and what startup apps might be unnecessary.

It divides the boot-time applications into three categories: No-brainer (remove from boot), Potentially removable (advanced users), and Cannot be removed with Soluto (yet …). (See Figure 3.) Click on any item within a category and you get a brief description; click the description's Advanced link and you get more details, such as what you gain and lose by allowing this program to load at boot time. Should you decide you don't want an app to load at boot, click the Pause button.

Soluto boot report
Figure 3. Soluto's comprehensive system-boot report displays a chart of what apps to keep and what to remove.

The program is far from perfect. It's discouraging to look at its results and see that the Cannot be removed section is far larger than the other two put together. And Soluto itself must launch during startup so that it can block other programs.

Still, Soluto is the easiest solution I've yet found for controlling autoloaders.

Soluto is currently in public beta. I checked with a company contact and was told that the application will remain in beta for some time and that there'll still be a free version once beta testing is finished.

Find out everything about your computer

System Information for Windows (SIW, download page) provides a massive amount of information about your PC's hardware, the Windows version running on it, and the network it's attached to. Most of this information is available elsewhere, but SIW puts it all into one convenient place. (See Figure 4.)

System Information for Windows
Figure 4. System Information for Windows provides an encyclopedic summary of your PC's data.

Here's a taste of what it can show you:

  • CPU and memory usage
  • Broadband speed report
  • Windows' activation status
  • Available restore points
  • Every installed program's version number and update URL
  • Computer serial number
  • PC's Windows Experience Index
  • Maximum system RAM capacity and snapshot of what's currently in memory
  • How hot a PC is running, in Celsius and Fahrenheit
  • Your system's IP address
  • Open network ports

System Information viagra for sale without prescription for Windows is portable; you can put it on a flash drive and run it on any Windows PC. The program is free for personal use, but professional versions will set you back $70 to $100.

Take control of when your PC powers down

You're done with the day's work, but you're not ready to shut down your PC. Maybe you're backing it up or scanning for malware, or maybe you want to give family members network access to your photos or music for the evening. But you also want to save power by not leaving the system on all night.

WinMend Auto Shutdown (download page) does exactly what the name implies. It automatically powers down your PC at a time you set. (See Figure 5.) It can also sign you off your system or put a PC into hibernate or sleep mode.

Auto Shutdown lets you specify a one-time date and time for power-down or set up a daily recurring schedule. There's also a countdown option; you can, for example, shut down the PC in two hours or put it into sleep mode within 30 minutes.

WinMend Auto Shutdown
Figure 5. WinMend's Auto Shutdown lets you shut down your PC exactly when you want to — without being there.

Auto Shutdown is completely free, though the site does have a donation link.

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Lincoln Spector writes about computers, home theater, and film and maintains two blogs: Answer Line at PCWorld.com and Bayflicks.net. His articles have appeared in CNET, InfoWorld, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.

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