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All posts tagged Windows

Safely Remove Your USB Device…

Even now it is misunderstood and maligned. Stop for a second and ask yourself, do you safely remove your USB devices?

How often are we in a rush and just tug that External Hard Drive, Jump Drive or other USB device out without a thought?

How can it be in the 21st Century, after all these years, now we have reached USB 3.0 that we still need to go through that malarkey just to disconnect?

If You Are Puzzled…

Windows requires users to safely disconnect your USB devices from the USB port they are connected to or plugged into. Sometimes we see the consequences of not doing this the next time we plugin and Windows doesn’t recognize the device.

So for those who are unfamiliar here is how to Safely Remove Your USB Device: –

Safely Remove Your USB Device - How To

Why Can’t I Just Pull It Out?

As I mentioned before the short-term consequences may be that Windows will not recognize the USB device next time you plug it into the same USB port.

This means you can end up with an External Hard Drive, Jump Drive or other device that won’t work with your laptop but long term there are other ramifications.

Safely Remove Your USB Device - Total Recall

Windows has total recall for every single device you ever plug into your USB ports and its metadata. This is all stored in the registry and it can get very bloated there.

I had to deal with a laptop with Windows 7 installed that was failing to recognize any USB devices. At first I thought, “It’s an old laptop, maybe the actual hardware is faulty.” However, investigation and some testing led me to believe that it wasn’t the case. I was ending up with unrecognized USB devices. The most frustrating was the wireless mouse. I suspected that there was some issue with the registry storing USB device history but really didn’t want to have to search through the whole Windows Registry nor did I want to do a full format and reinstall of Windows to test my hypothesis.

Thankfully a refresher on the subject courtesy of Bing discovery reminded me where to find the tools to handle this easily. The awesome Nirsoft run by Nir Sofer is an incredible site which has amongst its many tools something called USBDeview.

This is a tool that will allow you to see every USB device you ever plugged in to your PC, view its details and choose from the following: –

  • Enable / Disable devices
  • Disconnect connected devices
  • Uninstall previously used devices

The last was the one that most interested me. There were several screens worth of devices. This computer had been used to connect to about 15 different smartphones for testing and each of those were present. USBDeview showed me when each had last been unplugged and much more.

Sample screenshot from USBDeview

Safely Remove Your USB Device - USBDeview

Once all this legacy bloat had been removed USB devices connected and worked on the spot. You are probably asking where the link to download USBDeview is but, since this is not for the faint of heart I’m going to leave the bolder and more experienced who feel capable of using this tool safely to find it on the site themselves. This is a tool that makes changes to the Windows Registry, if you are going to use it then backup the registry first and consider yourself warned.

The Warptest POV

Safely Remove Your USB Device are words to live by. The better you treat your Windows OS, the better it will treat you. In the long run the Windows registry has a finite capacity for bloat so anything you can do to minimize this will almost certainly maximize the time until you need to format and reinstall.

When I discussed the problem of this older laptop with a skilled Windows tech I know, their response was,

“Sounds like hardware, time to replace that laptop.”

Don’t get me wrong there are cases where replacing hardware are a must. This isn’t automatically one of them.

The moral of the story is unless you are sure there is physical damage to hardware, don’t be in a rush to write off a PC that has problems.

((Free tip: whatever repairs need doing, always ensure all your data is backed up off the PC either to an External Hard Drive or Cloud Storage beforehand.))

So, the next time you’re about to just yank that External Hard Drive out of the port, ask yourself if you shouldn’t safely remove your USB Device. You’ll be glad you did.

Buying A New Windows Laptop Is An Investment…

…the idea is this will be your engine of mobile productivity for the next 3 plus years. So you want to make all the right decisions and invest wisely.

This is one of the big three questions that techies continually get asked: –

Windows Laptop - Techie Questions

Buying A New Laptop

Let’s start by asking ourselves, do we need a laptop?

This really feeds into rule 1: what are you going to use your computer to do?

  • Your use cases will define the form factor of the computer you choose. Filter from here.
  • If the answer is work from home only then why not look at a desktop. These are still more robust and allow for hardware upgrades easier than a laptop.
  • If you are only interested in email, some documentation, web surfing, video conferencing on the go then a tablet or tablet / laptop hybrid night be for you.
  • If you are mobile then screen-size, weight and battery life are all issues for you.
  • If you work with graphics intensive applications e.g. video post processing then you will probably want a computer with GPU (graphics card).
  • If you are mobile but perform keyboard intensive work then you need to find a laptop with a keyboard that works for you.

These feed into rule 2: try to go hands on with whatever you want to buy.

  • UX and how the keyboard feels or the screen looks is subjective.
  • Go to a store that allows you to try different models without too much of a hard sell.
  • Keep in mind what your uses cases are for the computer and if need be ask a salesperson to let you see a movie or go to your most used web app.

Rule 3: Only consider Windows 8.1 not Windows 8.

  • Windows 8 is great but why force yourself to do more Windows Updates than you have to?
  • Windows 8.1 was the last major update for Windows (akin to a Service Pack) and it carried with it vast improvements.
  • When you buy a Windows 8.1 computer you are insuring that not only is the OS in a newer state but also the hardware is at least as new as the OS.
  • There will still be Updates but these will be hotfixes and security patches and it should be a relatively speedy process (when I unboxed my new Windows 8 laptop, it took over 200 updates to get me to Windows 8.1 and the process was not seamless).

Rule 4: Touch.

  • The touch vs non-touch debate deserves a post all of its own (a work in progress, stay tuned) but suffice it to say that touch enabled Windows 8.1 will rock your world.
  • If you don’t go for touch then this is the next best reason to opt for Windows 8.1 as the improvements for mouse / keyboard oriented work are seriously good.
  • Since getting my touch enabled laptop, I have not needed to use a mouse once.
    I let my fingers do the working…
Windows 8.1 Touch: Let your fingers do the working

Windows 8.1 Touch: Let your fingers do the wOrking (thanks to Yellow Pages)

The Warptest POV

At the end of the day the rules above are a tried and tested guide for making objective choices. Choices that don’t factor in brand loyalty or prejudice, online reviews or the experience of your friends. All of these are valid factors but involve subjective evaluation.

The bottom line is actually the bottom line, start with a budget and work from there and keep in mind you are investing in your productivity.

If you have anything to add or a question then hit the comments and I’ll be certain to reply.

Windows Update: The Best And Worst of Murphy And Schroedinger…

… A few days ago I was in a computer shop when an enraged customer took issue with the store owner. What was he so angry about? That his computer was meant to be fixed but he had switched it on and it instantaneously ran Windows Update and then installed the updates for almost 20 minutes.

Windows Update Frustration

I truly felt sorry for the store owner who patiently explained what Windows Update was, how it worked and even offered to sit with the customer and teach him how to use it.

Whilst this was an extreme case of a computer user who has a limited view of how technology should work, one thing is clear. Windows Update can be a source of frustration to PC users.

It’s not that people get frustrated by yet another vulnerability, patch, hotfix or driver update. It’s the inevitable and unavoidable inconvenience that Windows Update consistently causes them.

PC’s are meant to make us more productive, more efficient and yet Windows Update seems to: –

  • Download and run updates at the most inconvenient times.
  • Either require restart or postponed restart or in some cases force a restart just when we are getting into our productivity groove.
  • To add insult to injury, Windows Update then installs said updates at an apparent molasses like pace, requires multiple restarts and after we think it’s complete it reboots and zings us one more time with the “Leave me alone, I’m installing updates” screen.

Today I read and heard several times online and off complaints and frustrations of people who just wanted to get on with their work and were stuck with updates and restarts.

Windows Update and Maintaining Inner Zen-like Harmony

It’s important to start from a perspective that Windows Update is there to protect you and is necessary and desirable. If you are Windows XP user who hasn’t upgraded now that XP has reached end-of-life you are probably missing Windows Update right about now.

To maintain calm in the face of Windows Update appearing just when you are busiest it’s important to know or decide on a few things first: –

Windows Update Meditation

  1. Inevitability – the first step to inner peace is acceptance; accept that Windows Update is a part of your OS / UX and plays a vital part in keeping you, your data and work safe.
  2. Patch Tuesday – the first Tuesday of each month Microsoft regularly releases any patches and hotfixes. So add a reminder to your calendar for the first Tuesday of each month to run Windows Update and check how many updates need downloading. Give yourself enough time to do it right.
  3. Default State – by default Windows Update is set to download and install automatically but it is also set to do so from a specific time.

Windows Update Settings

If you want to change this then go to:

  • Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Windows Update\Change settings >
    next best choice is “download but let me choose when to install them.”
  • Then choose a time of day when you are willing to run the Windows Update and sit through the installation and restart process.

NB* Don’t let this become a way of not running Windows Update. Eventually this mistake will catch up with you.

The Warptest POV

As a Windows user I’m a fan of Windows Update and as a Windows 8 user I like the improvements. As I said earlier, if you are a Windows XP user then you are probably realizing that no more updates leaves you unsecured and exposed; it’s time to upgrade.

Remember that the path to harmonious existence with Windows Update is pre-emptive. Be prepared and run Windows Update, don’t wait for it to run when you need to be productive. So …

Windows Update Keep Calm

… and remember if you need help with this or other problems then you can contact me through the comments.

Your Computer Seems A Bit Sluggish…

Of course, it’s been a few months since you read and followed what I wrote in my February post “Give your Computer a Digital Double Espresso“.

<<Pause>> Okay, now you’ve reminded yourself about all that and of course are running with those tips on your Windows PC here is one more tip that will give your PC a nice performance jolt. (Windows Vista and above, just like Microsoft I’m looking towards the end of support for Windows XP).

Ready, Steady, Readyboost…

Microsoft gave us a somewhat hidden power-user surprise where you can use Flash Memory to act as extra RAM for the computer.

One qualifier: the Flash Memory (if it’s a USB stick) and the port need to be USB2.0 and higher for this to work.

What Do I need To Do?

 Grab that Flash Memory (Disk on Key) and assuming you don’t need it for anything else or that it isn’t full of vital data just plug it into the USB port.

computer - readyboost

  • When Windows opens this dialog then select Speed up my system.
  • You should be offered the chance to allocate all or part of the space available. Make your choice.
  • You should see a marked difference in computer performance almost immediately.

Things To Be Aware Of

  1. Using your Flash Memory this way will decrease its life. The read/writes being made by ReadyBoost affect what is a finite number it can handle. Admittedly this is in the millions but it varies based on generic brand / good brand. Prolonged use may render your Flash Memory less reliable in the long run (not that this should be your go-to method of backup).
  2. If you have set your BIOS to boot from USB first then rebooting your computer will leave you hanging. When you start up / reboot ensure the Flash Memory is safely removed.
  3. Yes, always safely remove Flash Memory or you may find a USB port that doesn’t want to recognize it anymore.
  • When you reboot Windows should begin reusing ReadyBoost the moment you reinsert the Flash Memory. If not then troubleshoot by opening Windows Explorer and right click on the drive from the left pane list:

explorer - computer

  • Now select Properties from the menu and go to the ReadyBoost tab and select Use this device > Ok.

readyboost - dialog - computer

The Warptest POV

This is a useful tool for boosting your computer performance when you have some memory intensive activities running.

Microsoft gives us once again an elegant, easy to use solution to a common problem as part of our OS.

Keep in mind this shouldn’t be your default state of affairs; if you are continuously running into RAM issues you may need to consider upgrading to more memory on your computer.

So add this to your arsenal of ways to give your computer the digital equivalent of a double espresso and stay productive out there folks.

… And How It Can Be Disruptive To <redacted>?

On my daily commute this morning, on my first of two trains I decided to tweet a question:

To which several people replied with a variety of answers. The most popular were the following: –

  1. Google Glass
  2. Google Fiber
  3. Windows 8.1
  4. iPhone 5S

There was some discussion as to what constitutes “disruptive” for example if another iPhone (even one with fingerprint scanning or a gold case) constitutes disruption.

As for Google Glass, I’m afraid I will reserve judgment for when it’s actually available to the mainstream.

The point I made in reply was that everyone was missing a colossally disruptive technology which was the elephant in the corner of the room.

Disruptive Elephant

1 Photo via Office365 Online Pictures

The Warptest POV

Hands down the technology that provided a disruptive element to all online behavior, stimulated an unbelievable amount of debate and was perhaps subject to the greatest ethical questions has to be NSA‘s PRISM.

NSA Disruptive

The discovery that the US government, specifically the NSA was able to access, store and collate just about all our online data supposedly for the purposes of identifying terrorist threats shook many people when they discovered that to spy on terrorists the government was also spying on everyone as well. Whilst much of this data was acquired by the NSA applying court orders to many big tech companies we all use; the idea of that much Big Data being stored, crunched, analyzed and turned into something usable startles the imagination. There must be a bunch of Big Data Start Ups out there feeling that the US Government has beaten them to the finish line.

Let me be clear, I am not offering an opinion on the legitimacy of PRISM existing or its mission statement, enough people have written on that.

De facto PRISM offers several services: –

  • It is the world’s largest and probably most robust backup system.
  • It is probably the world’s largest cloud storage provider.

Imagine a future where the US Government finds a way to monetize PRISM without compromising security and offers a data restoration fee to citizens who lost their data. We all know someone who lost that critical document or malware corrupted the data on their hard drive.

Sometimes refactoring a product’s scope makes all the difference. I made this point in jest several weeks ago when I suggested that Apple could save an immense amount of Development and Testing money by rebranding Apple Maps as “Oh The Random Adventures You’ll Have“.

Apple Maps

Humor aside what else do you see as disruptive technology on the scale of PRISM so far this year?

Ballmer freebies

Microsoft likes giving us freebies…

… Some of these are hidden gems that most users have no idea exist. One of these is the Microsoft Steps Recorder.

This is a small application that allows you to save a recording of every click and every action you take on your computer.

Don’t Worry This Isn’t PRISM

I know that at first glance this sounds like Microsoft wants you to run a key-logger or something worse but you run the application and it records what you choose.

To run it: –

  • Windows 7: Start > Run > PS [enter] PSR [enter] With thanks to Jim Hazen and Fellow tweep @Srinivasskc for each correcting this in a gentlemanly manner.
  • Windows 8: Charms sidebar > Search > Steps Recorder > select

Windows Step Recorder

  • The application will open a small hovering toolbar on top of all open windows.

Windows Step Recorder App

  • Hit the record button to begin recording and the stop button when you have captured the activity you wanted to capture.

What Has The Steps Recorder Captured?

The HTML file contains a series of screen captures showing each step the user took: each window you interacted with and each click therein.

Windows Step Recorder Results 1

After this there is a text list of the application name and the UI element interacted with.

Windows Step Recorder Results 2

What’s the point of it? The use cases are basically this:

  • If you have a problem that you can’t quite explain to your tech support this is a nice, easy way to record how the problem occurs and send the steps involved to Support so they fully understand your problem. This also makes it easier on Support not having to translate what you are telling them.
  • This is a great testing tool for running test cases and saving the recorded scenario attached to a bug the tester reports.
  • If you need screen captures for a PowerPoint / Training Session / Technical Document this is how to capture the process you want to describe from end to end.

The Warptest POV

This is a great little tool and a freebie from Microsoft. The only major downside of it is the longer the scenario you record, the bigger the file can get. My advice is to work out what you need to record and don’t include redundancy.

What if you need something more though? Microsoft has you covered again. If you need to capture actual video of desktop activity then you can install Microsoft Expression Encoder 4. This is the free version and it works nicely.

Expression Encoder

Expression Encoder allows you to record video of a selected region of the screen or the whole screen, it can also just record voice or video from your webcam. Any post processing / editing you’ll have to do in another tool but plan your capture right and you shouldn’t need to do any of that.

Expression Encoder Walkthrough

In a nutshell, there something for everyone here. If you need help with this then contact me via Warptest here. Happy capturing.

Windows RAM Problems or things that make you go ARGHHH

Oh RAM why? We’ve all been there, 1001 applications open, loads of browser tabs and suddenly your Windows grinds to a halt. You hit CTRL-ALT-DEL and have to wait for that to open .. a really bad sign. Then you see your RAM is redlining…

Yesterday I had this experience on one of my test PC’s, I had a choice to either shut down some tests in the middle and resolve my RAM / performance issues or suffer the consequences.

Luckily I had a spare Sandisk 4Gb USB stick (or whatever we are calling them this week). Windows 7 has a really nice feature ReadyBoost that allows you to plug in your USB memory and allocate all or a portion of it to use as additional RAM.

How do you do it? It’s a piece of cake.

  • Open Windows Explorer and right-click on the relevant drive letter.
  • Select Properties from the menu
  • Select the ReadyBoost tab

Readyboost

In this case I allocated the full 4Gb after changing the options from Do Not Use this Device to Use this Device.

Once you hit OK, Windows will allocate the space on the drive, creating a cache file which will emulate extra RAM, solving all your memory issues.

As chance would have it, shortly after that I had a chat with someone on Twitter about this too.

ReadyBoost check it out and see if it can help speed things up for you.

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