Free Support for Vista SP1

For those of you still worrying about upgrading to Vista SP1, Microsoft is offering unlimited installation and compatibility support at no charge until March 18, 2009. Offering a service such as this will help home users and those not familiar with installing upgrades to Windows Vista. And I am very surprised that its actually being offered for a year! Maybe Microsoft is beginning to realize how difficult things like upgrading their operating systems can be for home users or PC beginners.

Click here for the Microsoft Help and Support Page

System Recovery Options

Today I wanted to discuss some computer system recovery options available to most people. Most IT departments probably have these tools readily available for use but home users may not know what tools are available out there. I am only going to discuss tools that I have personally used myself. I normally do not promote anything unless I know enough about the product or service being promoted. So, without any further delay, here is today's System Recovery Option:

EBCD is a bootable CD, intended for system recovery in the case of software or hardware faults. It is able to create backup copies of normally working system and restore system to saved state. It contains the best system software ever created, properly compiled and configured for the maximum efficient use.

EBCD will be very useful when you need to:

*** Copy/move files (with long names, not necessary in CP437 encoding) from/to the disk but OS which can handle them (windows, Linux...) cannot boot. In particular, you may create a backup copy of normally installed and configured Windows and later restore Windows from such backup copy. So, in the case of fault OS itself and all software and its settings can be restored in 5-10 minutes.

*** Perform emergency boot of Windows NT / 2000 / XP. When the loader of this OS on the hard disk is damaged or misconfigured, you are able to load OS using another, standalone loader from this CD.

*** Recover master boot record of HDD. This allows to boot OS after incorrect uninstallation of custom loader (LILO, for example), which made all OS on your PC not bootable.

*** Delete, move, copy to file (image) and re-create partition from file. Image transfer over network is also supported: so you may configure one PC and then make contents of hard disks of other PCs same as contents of the hard disk of the first one.

*** Change password of any user, including administrator of Windows NT/2000/XP OS. You do not need to know the old password.

*** Recover deleted file, even file re-deleted from Windows Recycle Bin, and, in contrast, wipe single file or a whole disk so that it will be impossible to recover it in any way.

*** Recover data from accidentally formatted disk. Sometimes it helps to recover data from the disk, damaged by a virus.

*** Recover data from a floppy disk, which is not readable by OS. Format 3.5" disk for 1.7 Mb size.

Download EBCD here:
EBCD Homepage

I've use EBCD numerous times to solve PC issues at work and at home. I've been able to recover data for clients that could not be recovered any other way.

Do you know of any other System Recovery Options available?

Is Firefox More Secure than Internet Explorer?

Firefox or Internet Explorer....which browser is more secure?

I never thought I would be "promoting" another web browser besides Internet Explorer, but I am beginning to enjoy using the
Firefox Browser from Mozilla. Reading some of the details related to the browser, I've decided to post about the main security features available for Firefox. I've been using the Mozilla browser now for the past few weeks and I absolutely love it.

Besides the following security features, this browser seems to be must faster loading pages over Internet Explorer.

At the end of this post, there will be a section available to download and install
Firefox if you choose to test it out which is another great feature, you can have more than one browser installed on your PC and it does not interfere with each other. Infact, you can import your IE favorites and homepage if you would like to instead of manually adding all the favorites again.

Pop-up Blocker

Firefox’s pop-up blocker notifies you when pop-ups are blocked via the information bar or icon on the lower right of the screen.

Protection from Phishing

Phishing Protection takes
Firefox’s security to a new level, helping to safeguard your financial information and protect you from identity theft. When you encounter a Web site that is a suspected forgery (known as a “phishing” site) Firefox will warn you and offer to take you to a search page so you can find the real Web site you were looking for.

Open Source, More Secure

At the heart of
Firefox is an open source development process driven by thousands of passionate, experienced developers and security experts spread all over the world. Our openness and active community of experts helps to ensure our products are more secure and updated quickly, while also enabling us to take advantage of the best third party security scanning and evaluation tools to further bolster overall security.

Automated Update

Firefox’s update system always checks to see if you’re running the latest version, and notifies you when a security update is available. These security updates are small (usually 200KB - 700KB), giving you only what you need and making the security update quick to download and install. The automated update system provides updates for Firefox on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux in over 40 different languages.

Protection from Spyware

We talked about the Top 10 Reasons to Hate Spyware
the other day. Firefox will not allow a Web site to download, install, or run programs on your computer without your explicit agreement. Period. You will be notified whenever downloading or installing software, and Firefox will always tell you what’s happening so that you can stay in control of your computer.

Clear Private Data

Firefox offers the ability to clear all your private Web browsing data with just one click with the “Clear Private Data” tool. You can be confident that when you clear your private data in Firefox it’s gone - whether you are using your own computer or one at the library.

So there you have it......
Firefox is now my new Web Browser of choice. I will keep everyone posted on my use of Firefox since sometimes people are reluctant to switch if they are not too sure about computer related topics. Browsing the Internet securely is more important to me than using the "default" browser installed in my PC.

Firefox can be downloaded on RChase Computer Consulting. Click the button located in the left column of this website.

Slow Browsing of Network Drives in Vista

I've been noticing lately that when open my network folder connections, there is about a 5-6 second delay when browsing as it seems Windows Vista is searching the entire computer to "find" the already present network drive data. Attempting to click on folders or files that show up while its seaching seem to be delayed as well. Eventually, you may even get the "Windows is not responding" message. Our network domain is made up of mostly Windows 2003 servers so this may have something to do with it but I am not sure and I do not have access permissions to be able to troubleshoot this myself. So, is there a workaround for this slowness?

Of course there is......and yes I found it by using Google. Here is the answer, compliments of
Excalibur Partners.

Type in the following commands from the command prompt:

netsh int tcp set global autotuninglevel=disabled
netsh int tcp set global rss=disabled

RSS stands for Receive side Scaling, not the other RSS.

Make sure you are logged on as an administrator when you do this. You will need to restart your PC for the changes to take affect and you will definitely notice the speed difference.

If for some reason you need to reverse the changes, type the following:
netsh int tcp set global autotuninglevel=normal
netsh int tcp set global rss=enabled

So if your browsing of network drives are slow, try the above solution to see if this helps. If not, get with your administrator to see if they have any other ideas.

1 Reason to use Microsoft Virtual PC 2007

Background: Our office uses Microsoft SMS 2003 to remote to other PCs in the office. We also use it to distribute software to the PCs like most companies do. The majority of our PCs are Windows XP and SMS works great on XP. I love having the ability to remote to a user's PC and helping them (yes, I do whatever I can not to have to leave my desk!). I fix probably 95% of my PC troubleshooting issues this way. Its awesome!

Situation: Our office just upgraded our PCs and now some of the brave Support Techs have the option to use Windows Vista if we want to. Of course, I chose that option. I love Windows Vista (keep your tomatoes in your pocket). I love learning new technology and although I think Microsoft has enough money, I would still promote them.

Problem: Microsoft SMS 2003 is not compatible with Windows Vista!!! The only way I can use SMS on Vista is to wait....and wait....and wait....until our office upgrades our SMS server to the new System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

Solution: Use Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 on my Vista PC. Here is what I did:

On my Windows Vista PC, I downloaded and installed Virtual PC 2007. I created a new VPC (that's Virtual PC for short) and when you do this, you must install an operating system. So I installed our volume licensed Windows XP image since I know SMS 2003 works OK with it. I then joined the PC to our domain (something else I learned in the process, to use SMS, the PC must be on the domain).

Next, I installed SMS 2003 and and tested worked! I am now able to remote into other PCs just like if I were still using my old Windows XP desktop. Virtual PC is amazing and now, I actually have 4 VPCs installed on my Vista PC....I know, why do I need 4 right? I can do multiple things like troubleshoot XP issues, test software on XP since we as an organization are not upgrading to Vista anytime soon.

The only issue is that Virtual PC is somewhat memory intensive because you have to decide how much RAM to use during the installation of the VPC. I usually use 512MB for them. So after booting up 1, my RAM jumped up to almost 1.5 GB, after 2, basically I was maxed out at 2GB and my PC started locking up. (Solution to this.....I sold my boss on the fact that using Virtual PC was a he purchased more RAM for me, now I am maxed out at 4GB)

I know some readers may be asking why I did not use VMWare. My answer, I just feel more comfortable with Microsoft products. VMWare is a great product as well.....its just not Microsoft!

Anybody care to comment?

Top 10 Reasons to Hate Spyware

Ever since I've been helping people fix or repair their computers, spyware & computer viruses are usually the two culprits for most of their concerns. For the purposes of this article, we will only discuss spyware.

Here is a list of the top 10 activities that spyware can do after its installed on a PC: (By the way, these are in random order off the top of my head)

1) Monitor your keystrokes for reporting purposes.

2) Scan files located on your hard drive.

3) Snoop through applications on your desktop.

4) Install other spyware programs into your computer just by activating itself.

5) Read your cookies to interpret information.

6) Steal credit card numbers, passwords, and other personal information.

7) Change the default settings on your home page web browser. (Usually the homepage is changed to some random porn site)

8) Mutate into a second generation of spyware (see # 4 above) making it more difficult to eradicate.

9) Cause your computer to run slower....and slower....and slower......

10) Deliver annoying pop up advertisements basically causing your PC to lock up due to lack of available RAM.

Ok......I just thought about 2 more so now its a Top 12 list........

11) Add advertising links to web pages for which the author does not get paid. Instead, payment is directed to the spyware programmer that changed the original affiliate’s settings.

12) Provide the user with no uninstall option and places itself in unexpected or hidden places within your computer making it difficult or actually impossible to remove.

Stay we will discuss ways to remove spyware.

If you think you may have a virus instead, read my article on how not to get a virus.

MySpace says Your account has been phished

Yup, it happened to my wife last night. I proceeded to calm her down as we discussed what happened and realized that it could actually happen to anyone at any time. Even though it does happen often we tend to think, “Really? This happened to me?” Another way to let you know your account was probably phished is that you start receiving very upsetting emails from your friends on MySpace asking why the @#$% are you sending them crazy pictures or weird messages. Well, if its phishing from MySpace, probably not too big of a deal, just follow the directions from Tom (the MySpace guy) to change your password and move on. It will probably happen again since these days, there are more “spammers” then “friends” on MySpace.

But let’s forget MySpace for a minute, who hasn’t received an email directing them to visit a familiar website where they are being asked to update their personal information? The website needs you to verify or update your passwords, credit card numbers, social security number, or even your bank account number. You recognize the business name as one that you’ve conducted business with in the past. So, you click on the convenient “take me there” link and proceed to provide all the information they have requested. Unfortunately, you find out much later that the website is bogus. It was created with the sole intent to steal your personal information.

Phishing (pronounced as “fishing”) is defined as the act of sending an email to a recipient falsely claiming to have an established, legitimate business. The intent of the phisher is to scam the recipient into surrendering their private information, and ultimately steal your identity.

Most of the time, it is not as easy as you think to spot an email phishing for information. At first glance, the email may look like it is from a legitimate company. The "From" field of the e-mail may look like it actually is coming from the company who sent it. But when you click on the link to take you to the company's website, it becomes a fake website built to replicate the legitimate one.

Many of these jerks are professional scam artists. They waste their days away creating emails that look authentic. Users need to review all emails requesting personal information carefully. When reviewing your email remember that the "From Field" can be easily changed by the sender. Also keep in mind that the phisher will go all out in trying to make their email look as legitimate as possible. They will even copy logos or images from the official site to use in their emails. Finally, they like to include a clickable link that the recipient can follow to conveniently update their information.

A great way to check the legitimacy of the link is to point at the link with your mouse. Then, look in the bottom left hand screen of your computer. The actual website address to which you are being directed will show up for you to view. It is a very quick and easy way to check if you are being directed to a legitimate site. So what do we do to help decrease our chances of getting phished? Here are two things I suggest that could help:

1) My recommendations, never, ever, click the links within the text of a questionable e-mail, and always delete the e-mail immediately. Once you have deleted the e-mail, empty the trash box in your e-mail accounts as well. If you are truly concerned that you are missing an important notice regarding one of your accounts, then type the full URL address of the website into your web browser. At least then you can be confident that you are, in fact, being directed to the true and legitimate website. (And trust me, if this email is coming from a bank, they will NEVER ask you for your account number, SSN or password in an email).

2) For most PC users that are familiar with Microsoft, you can upgrade your Internet browser to Internet Explorer 7 as it has an anti-phishing feature that you can turn on or off (it’s enabled by default) and it will help detect fraudulent websites. You can also download and install the Firefox web browser. This browser from Mozilla is more secure and stable. It also has an anti-phishing feature included which is enabled by default.

Upgrade to IE7 here: Internet Explorer 7

Firefox can be download here on my site. Just click on the box in the left column that says "Get Firefox with Google Toolbar"

Windows Vista SP1 now available from Amazon is now shipping Windows Vista with SP1. All 6 editions are available. Before you decide to upgrade to Windows Vista, be sure that your PC supports it.

Read the system requirements for Windows Vista

I recently posted on installing Windows Vista SP1 and I recommend it for anyone looking to purchase a new PC or someone who has recently purchased a new PC but it came with Windows XP. Vista is very stable and my PC has not crashed since its been online (4 months and counting now).

Post your comments if you do upgrade...I would like to start building some feedback on Vista.

Degree vs Certification

When I first thought about going into the IT field back in the late 90's, everyone was telling me that all I need to do is get certified and I will make at least $60,000 a year. And the top 3 certifications I thought about were Microsoft MSCE, Cisco CCNA and Comptia A+. So, I listened and began going to Seminole Community College to study the current (at the time) Microsoft track because they offered 2 year degrees working toward certifications. No way did I have the money to pay for an MCSE bootcamp.

So technically, I was doing both, getting a degree and studying for a certification within the degree itself. I continued for the next 4 yrs taking basically every MCSE related course and 6 semesters of Cisco course content as well. And while I did manage to get my MCP in Windows NT Workstation (yeah, I know, but I did say the late 90's), I would still have to take 6 more certification tests to become MCSE. No money = No test taking. Each test cost around $100-125 per test. At the time, I could not continue to finish my certifications. Their were other students in my same position. But it did help get me a job in the IT field beginning at the IT help desk level. After about 4 months of that, while still studying and learning more about Windows NT/2000/XP and Cisco, I got promoted to a Desktop Support Technician where I am currently at level 3 now.

So what am I getting at....unfortunately, without a degree or an actual current certification (my MCP actually expired a few years ago), I probably will not get promoted again. Yes, I do work for a government agency and I've discovered that its even harder to get promoted because a degree or certification is still a big part of what's needed to apply to most agencies. There are people where I work, who have a 4 year degree that have basically walked into their promotion knowing.....yup, nothing about the new position. Which, in my opinion can be good or bad. If employers are just looking to give someone with a degree a chance to make a name for themselves...but if someone without a degree or maybe has a certification or two but still no degree is better qualified for the position, that person should be hired. But it all depends on the agency's employment policies.

So, its come down to this for me....go back to school and finish my degree in Computer Networking, or start studying for Microsoft and Cisco again.

Continue reading to see what I decided to do about getting a degree or certification.

Laptop vs Desktop

"Ray, I need a new computer, what do you think I should get?"

I hear that question....often. The answer may be simple for some, but most people do not realize how cheap they can get a decent computer or laptop...which brings me to another question I often hear: "Should I get a laptop or desktop?"

There are many websites out there that compare computers and most are just trying to get people to purchase their brand. In my opinion, all manufacturers are better than they were 5 yrs ago. I personally have 2 Dell desktop computers. One is about 4 months old, the other is 7 yrs old. I am not promoting Dell, but I never....not at all....had to call someone at Dell about my computers. They just "work".

In saying that....most people just need to find a computer that fits what they need to do with it. Now for the purposes of this post, I am going to stick with Dell because I use them at home so I can help someone choose the right model for what they need. There are basically 3 different types of people that need a computer:

1) The college student
2) The parents/grandparents or computer beginner
3) The gamer

I'll give a brief breakdown of what each group should purchase but of course, each group has its people that actually fall into more than one group.

1) The college student: Usually, a laptop is the best decision for a college student. Why? Because they will always be studying somewhere. Whether at work or the library, most places these days have wireless Internet access so they can connect to the Internet if need be. Besides that, laptops are portable and easy to carry anywhere. The college student generally does not need a high powered processor or extra RAM. Just the basics. Here is the laptop I would recommend to a college student:

Dell Inspirion 1525

2) The parents/grandparents or computer beginner: This group is also simple....although they probably need a desktop instead of a laptop. Again, unless the parents are into gaming or other graphic intensive things, a simple desktop will do. Here is my recommendation:

Dell Inspirion 530

3) The gamer: This group is a fun one. People in this group could range from kids to adults and vary from all different types of games including online gaming. To play a PC game, your computer should be maxed out in all areas as much as you can afford at the time. I recommend purchasing a desktop, not a laptop for gaming, even though there are some companies that sell "gaming laptops", its not the same. Video cards are still not the best in laptops. Most games are so memory and graphic intensive that a gaming computer will need to have the best available at the time of purchase. Of course, there comes a huge price for this...but hey, if you are willing to spend this much to play games and you love doing, why not? Splurge if you can. Here is what I would recommend to a PC gamer:

Dell XPS 720

Ok, well that sums it up for deciding to purchase a laptop or desktop. Like I said, the above list is just general. There are more questions I ask people before making a recommendation but at least whoever is reading this will have an idea of what to look for.

RChase Computer Consulting recommends Dell PCs with Microsoft Windows Vista.

Troubleshooting PC applications

Troubleshooting a PC application can be very frustrating sometimes. I know, I have been doing it now for the past 6 yrs. Each application is different and usually the issues are different as well. Recently, I had the pleasure of troubleshooting a financial application known as Peoplesoft (or JD Edwards now...the name keeps changing). Basically, JDE support could not figure out what the issue was (I will not go in depth due to it may take all night) so they advised us of our last resort option....."reformat the PC and call us back if you still have a problem."

Honestly, I hate that answer. This "fix" is only available when there is absolutely no other solution. In this case, there was. I never reformat (or reimage as some call it) a PC without first exhausting all options. Today, I did just that.....and what do you know, an hour later, I found the solution.

Now granted, sometimes reimaging a PC is the only option. But if you can fix it yourself, why not? I was very excited that I figured out a solution even when the application's own support team could not. Doing stuff like that is one reason I love helping people fix computers.
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