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Basic Troubleshooting SOFTWARE Email

Email has become as much a part of everyday life as cell phones, Google, and Paris Hilton news. There are a wealth of options for those who want to swap messages with friends, family, and colleagues email applications range from free, open-source options to simple Web-based types, such as Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail, to the most ubiquitous of all applications, Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, or OE, (www.microsoft.com). Like any software, email programs have their glitches in terms of message handling, security, storage space, and general operations. Fortunately, they also tend to be fairly straightforward applications, which can make troubleshooting easier. Working Status The first step in identifying potential problems is to understand the version of the email program you are using and how it operates normally. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be using Outlook Express. To identify the specifications of Outlook Express on a system, navigate to the Help drop-down menu and click About Microsoft Outlook Express. A pop-up box will come up with the version of the application. (In our case, we’re using Outlook Express 6.) Normal operation of any email program, including Outlook Express, is fairly straightforward: Emails can be written in a message field and sent without difficulty or received in a timely fashion and formatted in such a way that reading it all is just a matter of scrolling down the page. More high-level functionality includes making sure an address book is working or that identity protections are in place, but again, problems in those spheres will result in an error message. In other words, no OE system messages tends to mean that all is well. Problem set although it would be nice to zip through life with no error messages ever, Outlook Express is an application and, like any piece of software, can have difficulty in combining with specific system settings or in transferring or storing data. Here are some common problems in OE and how to get rid of them quickly.

Message Handling
Problem:
Server error messages come up when I send and receive mail.
Solution:
There are a number of messages that might crop up related to the server while it is trying to deliver or send mail. These might include: No connection could be made because the target machine actively refused it. The server could not be found. There are several areas to check when the server is involved, with the first being firewalls. Often, firewalls are configured to restrict the type of network traffic that it considers suspicious or to only allow certain applications to send information over the network. If using a firewall from McAfee or Symantec, you’ll have to check the application permissions. For example, with McAfee, that would involve right-clicking the McAfee icon, navigating to Personal Firewall, and then clicking Internet Applications. What will appear is a Permissions list of the applications that are allowed to access the Internet. If Outlook Express is not checked for approval, select it and then restart the computer. (NOTE: Keep in mind that with some troubleshooting fixes, it might be necessary to temporarily turn off security features on the system. If this is the case, be sure to put security measures back into place or restart the computer, so it can boot up with the proper security settings after mending the problem.)

Another common error message is: Your server has unexpectedly terminated the connection. Possible causes for this include server problems, network problems, or a long period of inactivity. What might be happening is that server is timing out before messages can be sent. Basically, the connection opens for a certain amount of time, but the server isn’t leaving the window open long enough. To fix the problem, go to the Tools menu in OE and click Accounts and then the Mail tab to view the list of accounts. Highlight the POP3 account in question and click the Advanced tab to view your current settings. Microsoft recommends gradually increasing the timeout setting using the slider until you find the right setting for your machine.

Problem: You receive an error when opening messages or sending to people in your address book.
Solution:
When there is a problem in message handling that isn’t server related, error messages may include: There was an error opening this message. The Address Book failed to load. Outlook Express is incorrectly configured, please re-install. Some of the recipients for this message are not valid. Please verify the names. If the message in question contains an attachment, the first step would be to ask the sender to retry without the attachment. The system, and particularly the firewall, could be blocking the message because it finds it suspicious. With all three error messages, a fix might be to remove and reinstall Outlook Express. If using Windows XP Home, click Start and Run. In the text box, type appwiz.cpl and click OK, which will cause a screen to appear with Add Or Remove Programs. Navigate to Add/Remove Windows Components. In the list that appears, click to clear the Outlook Express checkbox and click Next. Outlook Express will be removed. Run through the same process to add it back in: Go to Start, Run, type appwiz.cpl, and instead of removing Outlook Express, check the box, click Next, and it will be added back in. Once the installation is done, click Finish. This will reinstall the application using default settings and hopefully reset the application and its components. (NOTE: Don’t attempt to remove Outlook Express from a computer running Microsoft Windows Server 2003, which relies on the email application to run properly. For example, automated messages meant for managing the server could be stop-ped if Outlook Express is reinstalled.)

Problem: An attachment you received has been blocked.
Solution:
If the sender attempts to resend a previously blocked message without the attachment, and it gets through fine, the difficulty might be that Outlook Express is blocking the attachment. To get it through, go to Tools in the OE menu bar and select Options. In the Options window, select the Security tab and uncheck the option for Do Not Allow Attachments To Be Saved Or Opened That Could Potentially Be A Virus and click OK. Before doing this, make sure that virus protection is in place, however. After you receive the attachment, change your settings back to ensure no unwelcome attachments make it through. In a workplace, changing attachment security settings is not possible because Microsoft administrators consider some file types to be too dangerous to let onto a system. These might include file extensions such as .EXE, .CMD, and .MSP.

Problem: The messages in my Inbox aren’t in the order I want them.
Solution:
Outlook Express gives you the option to select how you would like to arrange the messages within your folders. To change the arrangement of your messages, click Tools and Sort By. In the resulting drop-down menu you can choose to arrange your messages by Priority, Attachment, Flag, From, Subject, or Received. At the bottom of the drop-down menu, you can also select Sort Ascending or Sort Descending for each of the categories. So, for example, if you want your messages to display with the most recent messages at the top of your Inbox, click Tools, Sort By, and Received and select the Sort Descending option. This menu can also be helpful if you want to find a specific email or group of emails. You an easily select the criteria you’re looking for, such as From or Subject, to find the email in question and then change your settings back to what you prefer as the default once you’ve identified the email you need. Storage Challenges.

Problem: You receive a message notifying you that your storage limit has been reached.
Solution:
Many email programs are building more storage into the system for users, but large attachments, such as photos and video, can still bring a mailbox to its limit. After receiving a message about storage limitations, the easiest tactic is to do some digital housecleaning. Delete some messages, focusing specifically on those that have attachments. Another option is to download attachments to the hard drive, so you can delete the email. To do this, select the message with the attachment, go to the File menu, and select Save Attachments. If the email has more than one attachment, you will have the option to save just one of or all of the attachments. Once that option is chosen, you can save the attachment anywhere, such as on a CD or to the Desktop. General Operations.

Problem: My file is too large to be sent over email.
Solution:
With the growth of video content, PowerPoint files, and other media-rich applications, it’s increasingly common that large files present a challenge for email users. Whereas photos and images can be sent separately, something such as a PowerPoint presentation can’t be broken down into components. Fortunately, with compression software, it doesn’t have to be. One particularly popular option is WinZip, made by Corel. The latest version, 11.0, can be purchased online for $29.95 and has a number of intuitive features. To “stuff” a file and make it smaller for emailing, open the WinZip application, and a screen will appear with options that include New, Wizard, Add, and Extract. The easiest way to Zip a file is to using the WinZip Wizard. When you open WinZip, the Wizard may open automatically. If not, click the Wizard button and select Create A New Zip File when you’re asked What Do You Want To Do?. Click Next and follow the instructions to create your new Zip file. After you’ve saved the file to a folder of your choice, you can attach it to an email as you would any other file and send. Other choices for compression include PKZIP, StuffIt Standard, and ZipGenius (free).

Problem: Web links don’t work from inside an email message.
Solution:
Problems with Web links can occasionally be an issue with the type of browser being used, but more often it’s associated to the way the email program interacts with the browser. One solution might be to download the latest version of your preferred browser, whether it’s Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, or any of the other browser options. Some users don’t keep their browsers up-to-date, and settings that are revamped in Outlook Express can conflict with older versions. Because OE is a Microsoft product, it might be prudent to utilize the company’s newly refreshed IE 7 browser, which you can download at www.microsoft.com/windows/ie. The Web site will guide you through the downloading process. After the installation, make sure that IE is the default browser so that when Web links appear in an email, it will use IE to open them. To do that, select Control Panel from the Start menu, double click Internet Options, and click the Programs tab. In the Default Web Browser section, make sure the Tell Me If Internet Explorer Is Not The Default Web Browser box is checked and click OK. The next time IE is opened, it will ask to be the default browser. Click Yes. Sources Of Help For many general questions, including those related to security, storage, or message routing, answers may be found by accessing OE’s Help function, which can be accessed by pressing F1 or by clicking Contents And Index in the Help menu. You can access Help files by using the Content, Index, and Search tabs. The Contents tab is organized by subject, and the Index tab contains an alphabetical list of subjects. If you are unsure where to start, use the Search SOFTWARE Email If you use Internet Explorer as your browser, setting it as your default browser in Internet Properties will help to ensure that links within your emails will open properly. Reference Series / Fix Your Own PC 155 tab to help you narrow down topics that might be helpful. Another choice if problems keep occurring with Outlook Express is to consider buying repair and recovery utilities, available though the Microsoft site and developed by companies such as ScanDBX (www.scandbx.com), DataNumen (www.datanumen.com), Recovery ToolBox (www.oemailre covery.com), and Accurate Solution (www.accuratesolution.net). The ScanDBX tool, for example, is designed to repair damaged OE files and installations, while DataNumen’s Advanced Outlook Express Repair is geared toward file recovery.

Web Mail In addition to Outlook Express, many users opt to have Web-based accounts as well, either as a supplement to OE, or as their sole email. Providers such as Hotmail or Yahoo! sometimes act as a “junk mailbox” for users who want to limit the amount of spam and e-newsletters that are delivered to their primary accounts. Much more simplified than a fullfeatured application such as Outlook Express, Web mail tends to be fairly stripped down and straightforward. Users can employ tools to limit junk mail, set a different reply-to address for messages, create custom filters that send incoming messages to specific folders, and get alerts on a mobile device whenever there’s a new message. For Hotmail, settings can be tweaked, and troubleshooting can be done by selecting Options from the upper-right corner of the Web page. That will bring up a page with a number of features to access, and the one usually most helpful when there are email difficulties is Mail Display Settings, located under the Mail tab.

Another helpful section can be accessed through the Help link in the lower-right corner of the screen. Click Common Problems With POP Accounts to access subsequent screens to help you identify what the difficulty might be, such as trying to access an MSN email account from behind a corporate firewall. Yahoo! is currently testing a beta version of its forthcoming Webmail, which looks more like Outlook Express than previous iterations. In terms of its current mail application, however, it resembles Hotmail, including having its Options link at the top-right corner of the page. But Yahoo! trumps its online competitor in terms of having more complete troubleshooting information in its Help section, including the opportunity to contact customer care directly. Other email programs, such as Google’s Gmail (www.gmail.com) and Apple’s Mac Mail (www.apple.com), also put their troubleshooting tips into a section called Help and give tips on creating different mail settings as well as fixing any problems that crop up. In general, whether using Outlook Express, a subscription service such as Mac Mail, an account from a local ISP such as Comcast (www.comcast.com), or just a vanilla Web-based app such as Yahoo!, email can be a boon for communication, and in some ways, it doesn’t matter which software you pick.

After all, a message is the same whether sent through Hotmail or Outlook Express. But tapping into the troubleshooting power folded into every application will definitely make sure those messages don’t get lost in the digital ether.

Basic Troubleshooting SOFTWARE Firewalls

Keeping safe online can be explained in two easy steps: Keep the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. Firewalls can do both, which makes them a vital piece of software in today’s age of hack attacks, adware, and spyware of every kind. A firewall is like a moat around your computer. It screens inbound and outbound traffic to determine if it should pass, keeping malicious code such as virus attacks from getting into your system and keeping private data from getting out when keylogging programs and other nasty codes try to steal it. Windows XP (Service Pack 2) comes with a built-in firewall called the Windows Firewall. But many notebooks and desktops come preloaded with third-party software from Symantec (www.symantec.com), McAfee (www.mcafee.com), CA (www.ca .com), Zone Labs (www.zonelabs .com), and others. To see which firewall you have (or whether you have one at all), click Start and All Programs and look for the vendor’s name.

When the firewall stops working, so does your Internet connection or even your whole computer. But there are ways to fix it, and most of them are simple. Who’s At Fault? First things first. Before you get started, you need to know what’s truly causing your problem. Is it your firewall? Your ISP (Internet service provider)? Your phone line? The best way to determine if your firewall is playing tricks on you is to turn it off and see if your problem persists. If the problem disappears, you know what the culprit is. If the problem persists, remember that many things can prevent you from viewing a Web site, sending or receiving email, using a chat program, streaming a movie, or sending photos to Flickr (www.flickr.com) or My- Space (www.myspace.com), all of which are tasks governed by firewalls because they involve the transmission of data over the Internet. For instance, if you can’t view a Web site, the problem could be the settings in your Web browser or a problem on the Web site itself. Some Web sites use ActiveX and JavaScript types of code that give a Web page advanced features but also give hackers a way to exploit your computer which your browser may block for safety. (To check your security settings in Internet Explorer, including your ActiveX and JavaScript settings, click Tools, Internet Options, and Security.) The Nitty Gritty If you think your firewall is at fault, try the steps below to fix the most common problems. If you don’t find what you need, try your software’s users guide, Web site, or support line, since most firewall problems are well-known to the companies that make them.

Problem: I can’t send or receive data on my computer.
Solution: A firewall keeps the bad stuff out and the good stuff in, but sometimes it can keep programs you need from sending and receiving the data they need to function. In that case, the program is said to be “blocked.” Often you’ll see a pop-up window explaining this and prompting you to unblock the program or continue to block it. For instance, if Windows Firewall has blocked a program, it will show you a message reading, “To help protect your computer, Windows Firewall has blocked some features of this program.” The message has three buttons: Keep Blocking, Unblock, and Ask Me Later. If you know and trust the program that’s trying to send or receive data, just click the Unblock button, and the problem is solved. (NOTE: The Windows Firewall only blocks incoming data. Only third-party firewalls, such as the firewall in Symantec’s Norton Internet Security or McAfee’s Internet Security Suite, will block data from leaving your computer as well as invading it.)

Problem: I need to unblock a program, but I’m not prompted to do so.
Solution: Most firewalls will show you an alert when a program tries to send or receive data over the Internet, prompting you to block the program, unblock it, or defer your decision. If you don’t see an alert, you’ll have to unblock the program directly. The procedure varies slightly from program to program, but it’s largely the same. For instance, to unblock a program using the firewall in Norton Internet Security, look for the Norton icon in the System Tray (the set of icons in the bottom-right corner of your screen, next to the clock). The icon, which differs slightly from version to version, looks like a globe combined with a grid. When you’ve found the icon, double-click it to open the Norton control panel. Next, click Personal Firewall and then Configure. Click the Programs tab. In the Manual Program Control section, Click Add and then browse to the program you’d like to add. (Most programs can be found in C:\Program Files, the default location for Windows software.) From there, just follow the prompts to return to the Desktop and reboot your system.

Problem: I can’t print to a networked printer or access documents on another computer.
Solution: Sometimes your firewall will keep you from using a network resource, such as a printer or a document store, on your small or home office network. If your company gave you the computer and the IT department installed your network and firewall, it’s best to let someone from your company resolve this problem. You’re not passing the buck; you’re just being careful because you might change a setting that unwittingly opens your corporate network to attack. If you’re using your own network and have more leeway to alter your software’s settings, you can fix the problem fairly quickly. If you’re using the built-in Windows Firewall, which is the software most likely to block a printer or file share, open the Windows Security Center by clicking Start and Run and typing Wscui.cpl in the Open box. Then click OK. In the Windows Security Center window, click the Windows Firewall link at the bottom, choose the Exceptions tab, and select the File and Printer Sharing option from the Programs And Services list. Click OK and close the Security Center window and reboot your computer. This will give you access to shares that were blocked, but there’s a catch: Using the File And Printer Sharing exception on any computer that’s directly connected to the Internet can give hackers access to the shared documents on your network. To guard against this, you can double-click the File And Printer Sharing option in the Programs And Services menu and click the Change Scope button in the Edit a Service dialog box. In the Change Scope dialog box, make sure that My network (subnet) only is checked and follow the prompts to return to the Desktop and reboot your system. But even that can expose you to unneeded risk. A far better way to fix the problem is to use a third-party firewall that will give you full access to your network, without exposing your machine to the dangers of the wild, wild Web. By Microsoft’s own admission, the Windows Firewall is not designed to give you full protection, merely to add a basic layer of defense to Windows.

Problem: I can’t turn my firewall on.
Solution: Two things will keep you from using your firewall: The first is a faulty installation, which you can often fix quickly. The second is more worrisome. Spyware and other malware can turn off or completely kill your firewall as part of its plan to hijack your system. If you think your firewall did not install properly, uninstall and reinstall it using the directions that came in your software’s users guide (or see the problem below on uninstalling your firewall). On the other hand, if your firewall installed correctly and worked fine until you clicked a suspicious Web site or opened a specious email, use a spyware/adware detector to clean your system. Norton, McAfee, Zone Labs, and LavaSoft (www.lavasoftusa.com) all make well known programs that can remove most but not all malware from your system. You can also contact your firewall vendor to see if it offers a fix. For instance, McAfee’s firewalls can be attacked by spyware that very subtly edits the Windows Registry to disable it. (The Registry is a master database of program settings in nearly all versions of Windows.) It alters the following Registry key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\ Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\ Winlogon\Notify\Sens- Logn to read as follows: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\ Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\ Winlogon_disable\Notify\ SensLogn In the second key, there’s an extra word (“disable”). Rather than fix it yourself, it’s better to contact your support team because even the smallest change to the Registry can result in disastrous effects. Once you’ve run a spyware tool or a utility from your firewall vendor, you may have to reinstall your firewall because malware can leave it so damaged that you need a fresh copy. If the problem still persists after all these steps, contact your firewall vendor again to seek help.

Problem:
My firewall turned off Internet Connection Sharing.
Solution:
ICS (Internet Connection Sharing) is a Microsoft program that lets you share one Internet connection among many computers. Some firewalls turn it off when they install, along with connection sharing programs from any vendor. One solution is to repeat the ICS setup. But first check with your firewall vendor; some make tools you can download to reestablish your ICS connection quickly. You can download the tools from the vendors’ Web sites. Also be careful about the effects ICS can have on your firewall. Some vendors note that you can install their firewall on the ICS gateway (that is, the computer that’s directly connected to the Internet) and guard all computers that share its connection from malicious inbound traffic. But if you want to guard against outbound traffic, you’ll have to install the firewall on every ICS computer you want to protect.

Problem: I can’t uninstall my firewall.
Solution:
Firewalls can be hard to uninstall. Spyware, adware, and hack attacks can try to alter or remove your firewall from your system, so firewall vendors make the programs stick to it. The best way to remove a firewall is to use the Add Or Remove Programs feature in the Windows Control Panel because it triggers the firewall’s builtin removal process. If the Add Or Remove Programs feature doesn’t work, consult your users guide or vendor’s Web site to see if there are different ways to remove the software. For instance, you can remove certain McAfee programs, including the McAfee Personal Firewall Plus, with a program called the McAfee Removal Tool that you can download from www.mcafee.com.

Problem:
I have two firewalls running at once.
Solution:
By all means, turn one off. Using more than one firewall does not make your system any safer. It just makes it harder to manage inbound and outbound traffic by setting rules, policies, and exceptions because you now have twice as much work. Most experts suggest you use a third-party product over WinXP’s built-in firewall because the Windows version only protects against malicious inbound traffic. If you’ve unknowingly installed a piece of spyware that begins to send your personal data over the Internet, Windows Firewall has no way of protecting against it. (The firewall in Windows Vista does protect against malicious outbound traffic, but users have to configure the protection themselves because it’s turned off by default.)

Problem: I can’t configure my firewall. All the options and advanced settings are grayed out.
Solution:
This is an occasional problem with the Windows Firewall. It means that you’re not logged on to your system as an administrator and don’t have the right permissions to alter sensitive system settings. To fix the problem, log off and then log back on as an administrator. If you’re using a corporate desktop or notebook, your account may not have administrator’s rights, and you’ll have to ask your IT department to do the work for you. (It’s possible your IT group did this to keep you from changing your settings and leaving a hole in the network.) If you can’t alter the advanced settings of firewalls from Norton, McAfee, Trend Micro (www.trendmicro.com), Zone Labs, and others, you should run antispyware and antiadware programs on your system to ensure a hack attack is not the root of your problem.

Problem: I can’t connect to my office VPN.
Solution:
A virtual private network lets you send encrypted information through the Internet to your office computers, keeping it safe even though it moves through a highly public set of networks. On occasion, your firewall will conflict with your VPN software, leaving you without a connection to the office. If this happens, contact your help desk or IT department and notify them of the problem. If you alter your firewall or VPN settings, you could unknowingly open a hole in your corporate network.

Problem: I keep losing my Internet connection.
Solution: If you can’t keep a connection, check your modem, phone line, or any software that governs your connection. But there’s a chance your firewall is the nosy culprit. Some ISPs save money by disconnecting idle users to keep them from chewing up modems and bandwidth. To determine if a user is idle, the ISP sends a heartbeat message a small packet of data to test your connection to your machine. Some firewalls anti block heartbeats because they tend to use protocols that hackers also exploit. Zone Labs is one such firewall, but you can instruct it to permit heartbeats. If and when your ISP cuts your connection, open the Zone Labs Log Viewer by clicking the Alerts & Logs button in the Zone Labs interface. Then peruse the list to find the disconnection alert and note the Source DNS in the Entry Detail field. (DNS stands for Domain Name System, the method computers use to translate domains or Web site names into a set of numbers, and vice versa. Once you’ve found the DNS information a series of four numbers separated by dots add it to Zone Labs’ Trusted Zone. If you can’t find the DNS number you need, call your ISP to ask for the DNS number of the server that sends out heartbeats. Tell them why you need it, too, since it’s not every day that someone asks them for private network data. If you keep your firewall in good working order, you can trust it to keep you safe from the threats that mar an otherwise wonderful Web.

What To Do When . . .Your System Restore Won’t Work

You’ve just installed new software on your system, but after the requisite reboot, the PC fails to work properly. Slowed performance or an improperly working application leads you to use the Windows XP System Restore utility, but it fails to work. What do you do? Error messages related to System Restore contain a description of the problem along with suggestions for resolving the problem. While System Restore should not be your only method of backup, you can try some simple solutions when System Restore fails to work properly.

Where To Start
The first thing to do is verify the System Restore service is actually running. You can do this two ways: through the Computer Management dialog window or through a command line interface. To access the Computer Management dialog window, go to Start and Run, and in the Open box, type comp mgmt.msc or go to Control Panel and Administrative Tools, and click Computer Management. Once you’re in the Computer Management window, expand Services and Applications in the left-hand pane and click Services. All services locally running on the system will appear in the right-hand pane. System Restore Service should have a Status of Started and a Startup Type as Automatic. If it is not running, highlight the service and right-click to open a menu that will let you Start or Restart the service, as well as access the System Restore Service Properties dialog box to verify that the service is set to automatically start. This dialog box also offers general information about the Service name (srservice), its executable path, and Service status. Under the Log On tab, check to make certain the System Restore service is enabled for the specific hardware profile. For example, when laptops are docked, the service may be automatically disabled. The System Restore service may also only be accessible by an administrator, leaving the local user unable to restore previous backup points. In this case, log out of the Windows profile and log back in as a local administrator before proceeding. You can quickly verify the System Restore service status through a command prompt window. Go to Start and Run, and in the Open box, type command. At the prompt, type Net Start. A list of Windows Services that have been started will scroll through the display. This method only verifies that the service has been started and offers no additional information.

Troubleshooting
One of the most common problems is insufficient drive space. A minimum of 200MB on the drive the service is running is required for System Restore to properly operate. Once you free up the required space, which you can do by using the Disk Cleanup tool or by manually deleting needless files, folders, or programs from the drive, System Restore should function again. Insufficient drive space can cause a second, more serious problem with System Restore. When drive space reaches 50MB on the drive that the service is running, System Restore will be suspended across the entire system, meaning that no Restore Points will be created from there on out. So even when you free 200MB to allow the System Restore service to engage, there may be missing restore points due to the service shutting down. To avoid this problem, especially on smaller drives that do not require backup, you can turn off System Restore for that particular drive. You can do this by accessing System Restore through the System Properties dialog box. Go to Control Panel, double-click the System icon, and choose the System Restore Tab. Then select the appropriate drive, click Settings, and in the box that pops up, click the checkbox for Turn off System Restore on this drive. If the System Restore service is automatically running and drive space isn’t the issue, try installing an older restore point. Sometimes this is where users also run into challenges. If the System Restore disk space usage for a certain drive is set too low in the System Restore tab under System Properties, the number of restore points may be significantly reduced, leaving few restore point options. Unfortunately, older restore points are not always available. System Restore uses a First In, First Out process for decreasing the size of the data store to 75% of the total size when the data store reaches 90% of its total allotment either by default or that set by the user. This deletion is automatic regardless of the amount of total disk space available. Restore points have a life span of 90 days, so if the restore point is past this mark, it will be automatically deleted and thus unavailable.

Bare Bones Boot
If you have been unable to successfully install a restore point operating in a normal Windows environment, reboot the machine into Safe Mode by holding down F8 during the initial boot sequence until the Windows Advanced Options Menu appears. Choose the first option: Safe Mode. Upon logging in, Windows offers you the immediate option of restoring the machine to a previous state using System Restore by simply clicking No. By choosing this option, System Restore automatically opens. You can also run System Restore from a command prompt. In the same way you booted into Safe Mode, access the Windows Advanced Options

Menu and choose the third option:
Safe Mode with Command Prompt. With this option, instead of offering immediate System Restore, a command line interface window opens. At the command prompt, type %systemroot%\system32\restore\rstrui.exe to manually launch System Restore.

Blank Calendar
If you see that the restore point calendar on the left side of the Select A Restore Point window is blank, there could be a problem requiring adjustments to the Registry. This may be due to the file association for HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) component (.htc) files missing from the Registry. (NOTE: Making changes to the system using the Registry Editor may cause errors that render the operating system unstable.) To check the Registry, go to Start and Run, and type regedit. Locate the keys below by finding the first category and subsequent categories by expanding the appropriate folders. The following keys should be present in the Registry for the System Restore Calendar to be properly populated with valid restore point configuration. If one of the Registry keys is not present, you will need to create a new key. To create a new key in the Registry, first open the Registry editor by going to Start and Run, and type regedit in the Open box. Locate the corresponding keys in the directory tree in the left pane of the Registry editor and add the following values. To add keys, highlight the working directory in the tree to which you want to add a key and select Edit, New, and Key. To add a new Value name, highlight the key, and in the right pane, right click to obtain the New menu and choose String Value. Right-click the String Value and rename to the corresponding key information below. Right-click the renamed String Value and choose Modify to edit the Value data to correspond to the key information below.

Do this for all keys listed.
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\.htc
Value name: Content Type
Value data: text/x-component
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Classes\.htc
Value name: Content Type
Value data: text/x-component
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\MIME\Database\Content Type\text/x-component
Value name: CLSID
Value data: {3050f4f8-98b5-11cfbb82-00aa00bdce0b}
Create a second entry with the following values:
Value name: Extension
Value data: .htc
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{3050f4f8-98b5-11cf-bb82-00aa00bdce0b}
Value name =“Microsoft Html Component”
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{3050f4f8-98b5-11cf-bb82-00aa00bdce0b}\InProcServer32
Value name: Default
Value data: “C:\Windows\System32\Mshtml.dll”
Create a second entry with the following values:
Value name: “ThreadingModel” Value data: “Apartment” If this procedure results in returning the Restore Points to the Calendar and you use the System Restore tool, the earlier configuration may not have the necessary Registry entries needed to populate the Calendar. Check to be certain the Registry Keys are present, and if not, repeat the Registry edits and create a new restore point by going to Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and System Restore. Choose Create a restore point and click Next. In the next window, enter a description for the restore point and click Create. If the System Restore continues to fail, check the Event Viewer System Log, which records all system errors. Go to Control Panel, choose Administrative Tools, and double-click Event Viewer. Click System in the left-hand panel to display the log on the right. Sort the list by clicking the Source tab, and look for entries with sr or srservice. Double-click each entry to view the Event Properties for a detailed description of the error.

What To Do When . . .You Can’t Burn A CD/DVD

For the most part, DVD-R/RW (recordable/rewriteable) and CD-R/RW drives work as advertised, giving us a convenient, affordable way to make archival copies of software, media files, and the like and to create our own multimedia masterpieces. Yet sometimes the burning process (that of writing data to a CD or DVD) stops midway, with some enigmatic message appearing on our screens; or the results won’t play properly; or the drive itself is no longer recognized by Windows. It’s enough to make one yearn for the days of audio cassettes and VHS tapes. The copies you made were always a degraded image of the original, but barring mechanical failure in the media, they worked.

The good news is that there are logical reasons for these problems, and we’ll cover several of them here. We’ll also try to give you the most likely and least expensive solutions, so you don’t blow your bankroll on a state-of-the-art combo drive only to discover that it, too, refuses to copy your entire collection of home movies.

Problem: I got a real deal on 300 blank CD-Rs from an off-brand manufacturer. But I’ve found that only five of the first 15 I tried actually worked; the rest were rejected by my CD burner.
Solution: We all like bargains, but the reason many off-brand CDs are such a great deal is that their manufacturers have less-than-exacting standards where quality control is concerned. This even applies to some name-brand discs, which are simply rebranded, priced-up versions of off-brand CDs. We’ve had very good luck with Verbatim and Maxell. They’re not the least expensive CDs around, but when you factor in frequent duds lost to bad manufacturing that show up on some other labels, they’re more cost-effective. So before you decide your software or CD player is bad, go out and buy some really good media. You’ve saved some real money if that solves your problem.

Problem: I’m trying to make an exact copy of a CD in my collection, but I keep getting an error message that the remaining tracks on my original won’t fit on my copy. This is despite the fact that the media are of identical length.
Solution: You’re probably experiencing a buffer underrun. This occurs when a CD copy is “closed” to any further burning before it has truly been filled.

Low memory’s usually the culprit:
You have too little available by the time you reach point X on your CD copy, so burning terminates as though you’ve reached the end of the disc. The best way to combat this is to provide more memory, and you can do that by closing all windows and memory-resident applications (screensavers, virus checkers, emulators, etc.) that you normally use while engaged in the burning process. Whatever you do, avoid running memory-intensive background processes such as defragmenting your hard drive while burning we all love to multitask, but this is the worst time for it. Slowing the burn speed might help, too. The faster you burn, the more intensive the process. Note, too, that the maximum burn speed for your CD/DVD drive may not be the best for your entire system. A very fast drive in a (relatively) underpowered CPU with low memory isn’t going to be live up to its potential. Finally, you may be experiencing a buffer underrun if you’re employing some forms of data compression on the source drive. This slows down access time, since the data has to be decompressed before it can be transferred to your writer.

Problem: I’m trying to burn a disc, but my CD drive isn’t coming up as an available source or destination.
Solution: Windows isn’t recognizing your CD-ROM drive. The most likely cause is an outdated driver. On a Windows XP system, right-click My Computer, then click System Properties. Click the Hardware tab in the System Properties dialog box and then click the Device Manager button. Click the plus (+) sign next to DVD/CDROM Drives, double-click the drive you want to check, and then click the Driver tab in the resulting dialog box. Under Driver Date, you should see the issue date of that driver. Go to the manufacturer’s Web site and check to see if an update is available. If one is, create a System Restore point (if you’re using System Restore), install the newer driver, and then reboot.

Problem: My PC is equipped with a CD/DVD combo drive. Recently, I’ve been unable to play or burn DVDs on it, although I can still use it to burn CDs.
Solution: If you can’t use both CDs and DVDs, a number of possibilities present themselves. The most likely is unfortunately the most unpleasant to consider: combo drives typically use a dual-laser setup; so if DVDs fail but CDs can still be used, it’s very likely a case of the DVD laser giving up the ghost.

Problem: The sound of my burned CD copy is very distorted.
Solution: This could be due to several possible issues. First, have you checked to make sure that the source disc is still in good shape? Contrary to manufacturer claims in the early years of CD technology, CD surfaces can deteriorate over time. Second, are those source files of decent quality? There are MP3 files available with a bit rate as low as 32Kbps (kilobits per second; although 80 or 96Kbps is more common). You can fit a lot of material on a disc using such a low bit rate, but the audio quality will suffer. For good, relatively distortion-free transfers, 128Kbps is a good minimum bit rate. Finally, is your system capable of handling the write speed you’ve chosen? Just because the CD-ROM drive comes with a very high setting doesn’t mean your computer can automatically handle that. Try authoring discs at a lower write setting and see if that lessens or eliminates the distortion.

Problem: I’ve been burning CDRWs lately because I like being able to reformat them and overwrite the old contents. But I now find that the music compilation discs I’ve made and updated over time won’t play on all my gear, and a couple of my CDRWs won’t even play in players that previously worked fine.
Solution: Yes, rewriteable CDs are great when you want to keep just a few discs around. You can theoretically replace their contents as often as you wish, as opposed to CD-Rs, which only let you write to them once. But there are a couple of drawbacks to CD-RWs.

First, older readers may not recognize them, and that seems to be in part what you’ve discovered.

Second, some have raised concerns that the material that makes up some CDRWs’ data layer can too easily go bad and become unreadable, though when this happens it usually occurs after a couple of years, not weeks or months. So CD-RWs are a good, economical bet if you don’t plan to use them for archival purposes and if you only want to play them on equipment purchased in the last couple of years. CD-R media, on the other hand, has been touted as having a life expectancy of 50 years barring manufacturing defects, scratches, high heat, and/or humidity. In any event, we recommend that you play it safe; if you want to keep a CD forever, make a fresh backup copy every few years.

Problem: I just got the latest version of a great burner software package I’ve used in the past. Suddenly, I’m getting tons of errors while making copies.
Solution: Unfortunately, new applications aren’t always released in a “ready for prime time” condition. Some require one or more software patches, or updates, to bring them up to speed. Some media-authoring programs are particularly notorious for this. The only real solution is to put aside that latest major release for several months, which may mean uninstalling the software and reinstalling the previous version. If the problems you’re having go away, you’ll know what’s to blame. In any case, when you install new software, always check the publisher’s site for the most recent updates.

Problem: I burned a CD on my computer, but it won’t play in my car stereo or the CD player in my home entertainment center.
Solution: There are several possibilities here. The most likely is that you didn’t finalize (or close) the burning session when you finished writing to it. If you haven’t finalized it, it can only be read by the burner you used to make it. (By the way, you’ll want to leave an uncompleted disc open, as that will let you add to it at a future time. Once a read-only disc is finalized, you can’t amend its contents.)

Second, are you trying to play a copy of a commercially recorded, store-purchased CD? Because some players won’t accept this. Check your player’s manual to find out. Third, are you using an audio format that your players are compatible with? CD-ROM drives are unusually broad in terms of what formats they’ll accept and reproduce, but you’ll need to check your manuals to be sure. Fourth, try burning another copy using higher-quality media. That might make a considerable difference. Fifth, make sure you transferred the disc from the computer to other players in a manner that prevented it from acquiring dust or scratches. Either imperfection can and will prevent a proper read.

Problem: My CD-ROM drive reads commercial software and music CDs, but if I load a CD I’ve made just a few weeks ago, the drive won’t recognize it and acts as though no CD is there.
Solution: Reboot your PC and then try loading other CDs you’ve made and successfully run before. If your drive fails to recognize the others, as well, your drive itself may be on its last legs. Typically, when the drive laser begins to weaken, it begins to have trouble reading CD-RWs and later CD-Rs. At some point, even commercial software and music CDs will go unrecognized. Fortunately, CD drives are very inexpensive these days, and replacing one yourself is relatively easy.

Most CD burning programs let you select the bit rate (measured in kilobits per second) you want your audio files to use.

Problem: I tried to burn a CD today, but my drive wouldn’t open.
Solution: The most likely explanation is that your drive is stuck in an attempt to read a damaged or unreadable disc. Power down your system, then gently probe the small hole just below the tray (often on the right side) with a straight, sturdy piece of wire, such as a straightened paper clip. This should trigger the drive door’s opening mechanism, and you’ll be able to slowly pull it the rest of the way open. Remove the disc, close the drive, and start up your system. If this problem persists, you may need to look at replacing the drive.

Problem: My DVDs are taking longer and longer to burn. I didn’t notice it at first, but where I used to burn one in fewer than 10 minutes, the process now takes 30 minutes or more.
Solution: DVD burning uses a lot of hard drive space, so that’s the first place to look. Do you defragment your drive often? A surprisingly large number of people go for months without defragmenting their hard drive, and it makes caching torturously slow. Another problem is the accumulation of junk files on your hard drive. A good hard drive utility package such as Iolo System Mechanic Professional (www.iolo.com) or Vcom System Suite (www.v-com.com) contains tools that defragment and also let you examine user-defined junk files for potential deletion. If these are done regularly, DVD burning should show a significant increase in speed. As a side effect, you should see an improvement in speed to many of your other applications, as well.


What To Do When . . .Your PC Shuts Down Slowly Or Won’t Shut Down At All

It seems to happen at the worst time: You’re in a hurry and when you shut down your computer, you get an hourglass that spins and a computer that fails to shut down quickly or at all. This has happened to many other people. And while you could simply pull the plug on your PC or hit its power switch, you may know from previous experience that failing to properly shut down a PC results in an extended boot process. That’s because improperly shutting down your computer forces Windows to check your system’s hard drive for data errors. Shutdown issues are among the common types of problems you’ll encounter with Windows. Read on for some simple steps you can take to make shutdown a faster process.

Basic Troubleshooting & Maintenance
Sometimes the simplest thing at the root of a slow shutdown is the most overlooked. Proper maintenance is essential to good hard drive function. All versions of Windows 98 and later have a built-in drive Cleanup Utility. Cleaning your drive not only helps you liberate some extra hard drive space, but it can also help improve overall operating system performance including system shutdown. To access the Cleanup Utility, open the Start menu; select Programs (All Programs in Windows XP), Accessories, and System Tools; and click Disk Cleanup. Another maintenance task is the regular defragmenting of the hard drive. If you have a heavily fragmented hard drive, the OS has to search the drive for all the pieces of scattered data. The longer your OS has to search, the slower all functions become. To defragment your system, navigate to System

Tools and click Disk Defragmenter.
Although many PCs on the market these days have just about all the peripherals you would want, some systems also offer an abundance of USB ports for connecting additional hardware. If you suspect that a recently added USB device is causing a slow shutdown, it’s possible the added peripheral doesn’t support the Selective Suspend power management feature. To correct this, try disabling the Power Management option for your USB hub. Right-click My Computer and select Properties. Select the Hardware tab and click the Device Manager button. Expand Universal Serial Bus controllers, right-click USB Root Hub, and select Properties. Next, click the Power Management tab, clear the Allow The Computer To Turn Off This Device To Save Power checkbox, and click OK.

When Your System Hangs
One of the most commonly encountered Windows problems is when you shut down your computer and the process takes an excessive amount of time to complete. The OS is made up of a collection of small programs; therefore your computer must end each program individually during shutdown. Any anomaly in just one of these smaller programs can prolong shutdown or cause the process to fail.

Delays follow a new installation. If you experience shutdown delays and you installed new apps recently, you’ll want to determine if the new programs are the cause. Try uninstalling the programs starting with the last one first. In Windows, the last program you install will appear at the end of your Start menu list of applications. That is, unless you sorted this list by name. Then you’ll need to do a little searching. When uninstalling a program, you can use the application’s built-in uninstall feature (located in its folder entry in the Start menu) or the Add Or Remove Programs utility (click Start, select Control Panel, and double-click Add Or Remove Programs). After removing the program in question, restart your machine and attempt the shutdown again. If your PC shuts down properly, you’ll know the application was the cause. One note: Before you remove the suspected application, you may want to check the manufacturer’s.

Web site for patches and/or updates that may be available for you to download and make the program operate correctly. Trouble stems from an update. When you initiate the Windows shutdown procedure from the Start menu, Windows may prompt you for some type of user input when an app crashes or fails to respond. When this happens, Windows halts the shutdown process until you permit Windows to stop the nonresponsive application. Fortunately, there is a temporary workaround for this situation. By making a simple adjustment to Windows’ Registry, you can instruct WinXP to automatically close pesky crashed applications.

Before tweaking the Registry, you should back up your system in case you need to return it to a previous setting. For specific instructions on backing up the Registry, visit the Microsoft Help And Support article at support.microsoft.com/kb/322756. After you create the backup, open the Start menu, click Run, type regedit in the Open field, and click OK. In Registry Editor, navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\CONTROLPANEL\DESKTOP. Double-click AutoEndTasks in the right panel, type a 1 in the Value Data field, and click OK. Close Registry Editor and restart your machine. Now when you shut down your computer, WinXP can close any applications that hang, and it will do so without any further input from you during the process.
If you experience shutdown problems after installing updates, new drivers, or software, you can usually return your PC to its preupdate condition using System Restore. Open the Start menu; select All Programs, Accessories, and System tools and then click System Restore. By default, WinXP enables System Restore on all your computer’s hard drives provided you have enough hard drive space (about 200MB). After rolling back to a restore point, start up and shut down your PC once or twice to confirm the slow shutdown problem is resolved. It’s important to note that System Restore isn’t a substitute for uninstalling a program. Therefore, you will need to remove the offending application as we previously mentioned. System issues occur after adding new a profile. You recently added a new profile on your computer for a family member and now your system hangs at logoff or when you shut down the system. The biggest reason for this problem is Windows is unable to unload a user profile because system processes and/or apps occasionally maintain connections to Registry keys in the user profile even after the user logs off. Microsoft’s Download Center (www.microsoft.com/downloads) provides User Profile Hive Cleanup Service, a free utility that cleans user profiles. The utility is available for registered Windows users, and it is specifically engineered to make certain that user sessions are completely terminated when a user logs off.

Slow shutdown occures after enabling the Clear Page file On System Shutdown option. Although it is true that clearing the page file on system shutdown will delete all data stored there so others can’t retrieve it, doing this does substantially increase shutdown time. The page file works as virtual memory (storage) in WinXP and can, on occasion, grow to mammoth proportions. Because some third party applications could use the page file to temporarily store sensitive information in virtual memory, some people prefer to set their machines to clear the page file at shutdown. If you think your system is running slow because you enabled the Clear Page file option, you can tweak the Registry and make things run quicker. Back up your system first. Then open the Registry Editor and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CURRENTCONTROLSET\CONTROL\SESSIONMANAGER\MEMORYMANAGEMENT. Double-click Clear Page File At Shutdown in the right panel and set the Value Data field to 0.

System Delays & Increased Internet Activity
Despite our best efforts, viruses and spyware sometimes take refuge in our PCs causing systems to shut down slowly or worse, not at all. If you suspect your system has a virus, make sure you update your virus signatures and run a complete scan on your machine. Antivirus alone is not enough these days, so good spyware prevention software is a must. Microsoft’s WindowsDefender (free; www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx) scans your system to ferret out spyware that could be slowing down your PC.

Take Action
Although some people have learned to live with their computers’ slow shutdown times, that doesn’t need to be the case. Proactive intervention will certainly speed up a computer’s shutdown process, and it may eliminate most of the common problems altogether.

What To Do When . . .Your PC Internet Connection Is Slow

One of the more frustrating aspects of computer usage in the Internet era are the times when your PC slows to a crawl for no apparent reason. Suddenly it seems as if the bits are passing through molasses as they travel from the Internet to your living room. The good news is that there are solutions to nearly every common Internet problem. While the problems vary depending on how you connect to the Internet, there are troubleshooting tactics and system tweaks you can use to optimize performance. And if all else fails, there are ways to make life more bearable on a slow Internet connection, using add-on tools that can speed up browsing and downloading under such conditions.

Generic Problems
The first things to examine whenever system performance slows to a crawl are the tasks, or processes, your PC is running. No matter how fast of a CPU you have, running too many apps at once can slow everything down. Check running applications. Use the Windows Task Manager to check on hidden apps that could be starving your browser of precious time. Right click the Taskbar, select Task Manager, and click the Processes tab. You’ll see a list of every process (Windows calls them Images) running on your PC; you can sort the list by name, amount of CPU time, or memory usage. If you sort by CPU time and notice a couple programs trying to grab all the CPU, it’s a clue something has gone awry. If you identify an unknown program hogging all the CPU, you can stop it by right-clicking the name and selecting End Process. But be careful: accidentally killing a valid Windows process may cause other problems, requiring a reboot to fix. Check the drivers. You also may be overloading the network pipe. For example, if you’re using a dial-up connection, you likely won’t be able to watch the latest YouTube video while downloading email. When you notice performance deterioration, make sure your system has the latest network and modem drivers. These are often automatically updated by Microsoft Update (see www.microsoft.com/athome/security/update/msupdate_keep_current.mspx), but if you know your modem or network card model, it doesn’t hurt to check the manufacturer’s Web support site for updates.

Physical Network Problems & Troubleshooting Tips
Dial-up connections use the same basic technology: a modem connected to a phone line. But there are a number of broadband technologies (DSL [Digital Subscriber Line], cable TV, and fixed wireless), each with its own causes of performance degradation. Start any diagnosis of suspected network problems by getting quantitative data. There are a number of Web sites for performance testing; one of the best is at www.speedtest.net. It presents users with a world map of various test points relative to your location (which it does a good job of deducing from your Internet address), providing a convenient way to check speed against a number of servers. Speedtest.net remembers your PC from session to session, recording all your tests to a database to allow comparisons of results over time. Try testing at different times over several days. If you see results coming in below the rated speed of your service, it’s time to investigate. Depending on your specific connection type, there are a number of quick things to check when troubleshooting degraded Internet performance. Dial-up. A slow connection is often caused by a poor phone circuit. For example, dialing in from a new house in the suburbs, with new wiring all the way to the phone central office, will likely approach the theoretical maximum of 56Kbps (kilobits per second), while connections from older homes or rural areas may be lucky to reach 28.8Kbps. If your dial-up connection is slow, start by redialing or changing your access number. Persistently poor connections may be due to bad home wiring or too many line splitters between the wall jack and your PC. Make sure wiring is as short as possible. Broadband DSL. DSL circuits are dedicated to your location, so you should get the full-advertised bandwidth.

However, they require special line filters if a phone is used on the same line. If your connection is slow, isolate wiring problems by unplugging all phones and fax machines, connecting your DSL modem to the wall socket, and retesting your connection. If the speed improves, you may have a bad line filter or too many splitters on the same line. Put your DSL modem on a dedicated phone line, if possible. Broadband cable. Cable TV circuits are shared with other homes in your neighborhood perhaps as many as 50 so download rates vary and are usually slower during prime time. Signal problems on cable circuits should be visible on your television, particularly on local channels (e.g. 2 to 12), and generally require a service call to correct. If your television signal looks good, try checking the speed at off-peak hours to see if your neighbors are hogging bandwidth. Wireless. Fixed wireless uses a portion of the broadcast spectrum to transmit to a stationary receiver. Signal strength can affect download speed and depends on placement of the receiver in relation to the antenna. Try moving the receiver to different locations. If the best location isn’t close to your PC, many wireless companies offer modules that can route the connection to other locations over electrical wiring. If none of these do-it-yourself solutions works, call your service provider to see if it can isolate the problem.Home Network Changes
Beyond your ISP (Internet service provider), Internet connection slowdown can also result from problems on your home network. If you don’t share your Internet connection (most dial-up users), you can skip this section. Wireless technology, also known as Wi-Fi, operates on a portion of the radio spectrum also used by many cordless phones and microwave ovens.

Within this spectrum, Wi-Fi routers run on one of 11 channels. If you live in close quarters such as an apartment building, a neighbor’s router could be configured to run on the same channel as yours, causing interference. If you notice a slowdown, use your router’s Web configuration page to try a different channel; your PC will automatically find the new channel. Cordless 2.4GHz phones operate over the same frequencies as Wi-Fi, so you’ll likely notice a slowdown or lost connection when the phone is in use. Either position the phone base station and wireless router as far from each other as possible or get a phone that runs on the 900MHz or 5.8GHz band. To get a detailed look at what is going on in the Wi-Fi ether, MetaGeek has a great gadget called Wi-Spy (www.metageek.net). It’s a USB key with sophisticated software that analyzes and graphically charts interference, quickly identifying any problems.

Occasionally the default network settings from your ISP can cause a slowdown. All Internet applications use DNS (domain name system) servers to look up the Web addresses of sites you access. When a broadband router connects to the ISP, it picks up addresses for the DNS servers and passes these along to your PC. If these servers are slow, changing to an OpenDNS server can alleviate the bottleneck. Details on how to start using OpenDNS are available at www.opendns.com/start. If all else fails, reboot your modem and router. This ensures the router picks up the latest configurations and can often clear up problems.

Browser Configuration Changes
Tweaking some browser settings can also help improve Internet connection performance. The simplest change is to increase the size of your Internet cache, or Temporary Internet Files in Internet Explorer parlance. Your browser keeps copies of pages you visit, including the graphical content, in the cache. When you revisit a page that has been cached, your browser looks for elements that haven’t changed since your last visit and uses the local copies instead of redownloading. Given the enormity of today’s hard drives, most browsers have conservative defaults for cache size, usually less than 50MB. Bumping this up to 100 to 250MB can help. In Internet Explorer, select Tools, Internet Options and click the General tab. Under Temporary Internet Files, click the Settings button. Enter a new amount of disk space used for the cache. If you’re on a very slow link, you can also to have the browser block most bandwidth hogs, including images, Java applets, and ads. Firefox offers the most flexibility in controlling what is displayed, with settings contained on the Options:Content tab. Internet Explorer can be configured by selecting Tools, Internet Options, clicking the Advanced tab, and scrolling down to the Java and Multimedia sections where you can check or uncheck a series of boxes to control whether various multimedia elements display. Unwanted pop-up windows are another source of frustration on slow links. Internet Explorer 7 comes with a pop-up blocker add-on. Firefox also comes with a free add-on, Adblock Plus. Adblock and other Firefox addons are available by selecting the Addons menu and clicking the Get Extensions button.

System Configuration Changes
Windows has a number of network parameters defined in the system Registry. The default values provide good performance, but they are not always optimal. While modifying the Registry is not for the faint of heart, Cable Nut (www.cablenut.com) provides a simple interface for changing the relevant parameters. Cable Nut includes a number of preset configurations for various connection types and can back up and restore previous Registry settings, should you need to back out of any changes.

Tools
A number of ISPs and third party products attempt to accelerate dial-up connections by using compression on different downloaded elements such as text and graphics. With these high-speed, dial-up services, the ISP runs an acceleration server that acts as an intermediary between your PC and Web servers.

The acceleration server uses its broadband connection to fetch and cache pages you request and then compresses the data before sending it to your PC, where it is decompressed by a small client program running on your PC. While many data types used on the Internet are already highly compressed, much is not. Depending on the page, these accelerated services often load more than three times faster than an unaccelerated dial-up account. If your ISP doesn’t offer high-speed service, several third parties provide equivalent functionality usable with any account (see the sidebars on this page for lists of ISPs and software). Be aware that most of the client only products, such as Accelerate (accelerate.webroot-software-inc.qarchive.org) or Net Accelerator (www.programurl.com/net-accelerator.htm), really just automate the tweaking of Windows network settings, similar to what CableNut allows you to do by hand, offering little extra value. Another way to increase your online efficiency is by using offline reading tools. You can configure email clients such as Outlook and Thunderbird to download all new mail and disconnect, letting you read and reply to mail offline. Both IE7 and Firefox offer RSS (Really Simple Syndication) news-reading add-ons that can download content from your favorite blogs or other RSS-aware sites for later perusal, similar in function to a number of third-party readers such as Newz Crawler (www.newzcrawler.com) or Feed-Demon (www.newsgator.com/NGOLProduct.aspx?ProdId=FeedDemon). Firefox and IE6 also have a “work offline” mode (available from the File menu) that allows you to browse previously visited pages; however, this feature has been eliminated in IE7 in preference of the more powerful RSS subscriptions that automatically download new content without having to manually access the site.

Intermittent Internet connection problems are an unpleasant reality, but there are a number of techniques and tools you can use to solve most basic problems and fine-tune your connection. For those stuck with slow dial-up links, high-speed services are available that provide noticeable improvement, although they still fall short of even the slowest broadband service. Use of offline reading software, coupled with simple changes in usage habits, can also greatly reduce the frustration of working with a slow connection.


What To Do When . . .Your PC Runs Slowly Or Erratically

So, your computer is acting strangely. Is it running slowly? Does it clip along normally one moment, only to grind to a halt minutes later? You better be ready to roll up your sleeves to tackle this one yourself, because this is the sort of problem that a computer repair person or phone support techie rarely solves. These folks will usually fix what’s obviously broken and move on, but much of the time, a slow or erratic system is suffering from something that isn’t obviously or completely broken. Your computer’s only in good enough shape to “mostly” work most of the time. Ultimately, although it seems like just about anything could slow a PC or prompt weird behavior, there are several things that tend to be the root of these problems. Even if you can’t completely solve the problem, you can frequently narrow the problem down so that someone else can attempt to solve it.

Sudden Problem Or Long-standing Issue?
If you suddenly notice your PC acting up, consider if you’ve made any recent changes. Have you installed any new hardware or software lately? Does your PC’s bizarre behavior happen to coincide with the new addition? If so, then the new stuff becomes your prime suspect, and following these tips could help you crack the case. New software is likely to slow a system down if it has some sort of “always-on” component, such as a background virus checker or a scheduler, but even software which lacks such a feature can occasionally cause problems. Try uninstalling the new software with its uninstaller first. You can also uninstall by using Add Or Remove Programs in the Control Panel. (Click Start, Control Panel, and double-click Add Or Remove Programs.) Once you’ve removed the software, reboot and see if your computer is still running slowly.

New hardware can also slow down a system, especially if you’re using an older driver. Ironically, if you’ve followed the hardware’s installation documentation to the letter, then you probably used the drivers/software that the manufacturer included on the installation disc, and those drivers could be old. First, try downloading and installing the most recent versions of drivers and any bundled software from the manufacturer’s Web site. These updates often fix bugs or glitches that can affect system performance. If the slowness remains, remove the new hardware; if it was an upgrade to existing hardware, reinstall the old hardware. If your system returns to normal, then the new hardware is either faulty or not completely compatible with your PC. Consider using an alternative product from another vendor.

Double-Check The Hardware: The Basics
Although system slowdowns tend to be software-related, there’s no point in chasing down an elusive software problem unless you know your hardware is working properly. The main components to check are the CPU, RAM, and hard drive. There are many diagnostic programs out there, but perhaps the simplest way to go is to the Ultimate Boot CD, which is available as a free download from www.ultimatebootcd.com. If you choose to download the application and burn it to a disc, your burning software must be able to burn ISO (International Organization for Standardization) image files. If you don’t have the necessary software, the Web site maintains a list of people who can create and mail you a physical copy, usually for a nominal fee. When you have the CD, start your computer with the disc in your CDROM drive. After the program loads, start with a CPU test and let it run for at least 30 minutes. Then, start a RAM test and let it run overnight. (Memtest86+ is a good one.) If your computer passes these tests, run a hard drive check. The Ultimate Boot CD also contains the latest utilities from different hard drive manufacturers. Run the utility that matches your drive and let it run through both the quick test and the thorough test, which take approximately 20 minutes and several hours, respectively, to complete. Some computers also come with a “diagnostic partition,” which you can access by pressing a certain key at boot-up. Your manual should provide more explicit information, but if you look quickly as your computer is in the first few seconds of its boot sequence, you should see a message on the bottom of your screen that may read something like “Press F8 For Boot Menu” or “Press F10 For Diagnostics.” If you see this, press the key as directed and select the choice that seems to be diagnostic software. Odds are that these diagnostic tools are geared specifically for your hardware (rather than the generic utilities found on The Ultimate Boot CD) and can ferret out any hardware troubles.

Double-Check The Hardware: System Cooling
It goes without saying that your PC’s internal components generate heat, but have you considered what would happen to your PC if your CPU overheated? Those clever engineers at Intel and AMD have, and most (though not all) modern CPUs will automatically throttle back when their built-in thermistors (which are transistor-sized thermometers) detect when a system is overheating. After a few minutes (or even seconds) of operating at a lower speed to reduce the CPU temperature, the CPU throttles up to full speed again. This scenario should never happen in a computer that’s functioning properly. But if the CPU cooling fan or one of the case fans stop spinning (or spin at a reduced rate) or a CPU heatsink clogs with dust, this is exactly what can happen. Although the CPU is only protecting itself from burning out, from a user’s point of view, the computer starts a cycle of acting normally and then slowing down.

Opening your PC and cleaning out all the dust is a task you should probably do at least once a year. So if your PC is acting oddly, cleaning it should be high on your list. While you’re in there, clean the CPU heatsink with a can of compressed air or a small brush. (You may need to remove a plastic or metal shroud that directs airflow to the CPU.) If the fans are covered with gunk, hold the blades in place to keep the fan from spinning if you use the compressed air to blow them clean. After you’ve cleaned it out, turn the computer on while it’s still open and check that all the fans start spinning. If there’s any fan that refuses to spin or sounds rough or gravelly, it may need replacing. If you aren’t sure if a fan is running as fast as it’s supposed to, then you should also check the processor’s temperature while Windows is running to ensure it isn’t overheating. This task is easily accomplished with free software, such as SpeedFan. To download SpeedFan, open a Web browser with an active Internet connection and go to www.almico.com/speedfan.php. Click Download and SpeedFan 4.31. Choose where you’d like to download the installer file and double-click the installer file’s icon once it has fully downloaded. The installation wizard will guide you through the process; open SpeedFan when you have installed it. SpeedFan’s Reading tab should display your CPU’s current temperature. Be sure to check your CPU’s temperature during idle and after you’ve placed it under load. (Playing a demanding 3D video game is a good way to do this.) Although CPU manufacturers list the maximum recommended temperatures for their CPUs, as a general rule of thumb, any CPU temp higher than 64 degrees Celsius is cause for concern. You should look into replacing a malfunctioning fan, installing a better heatsink/fan combination if your stock fan is working fine, or look for some other cooling problem. If your CPU temperatures are lower than its maximum rating, then overheating isn’t causing your system’s slowdowns.

Clear Out The Software Nasties
After you’ve verified there aren’t any hardware problems or corrected any problems you did find, focus on software. And whenever you deal with software problems and weird slowdowns, computer viruses and spyware should immediately come to mind. Fortunately, there are a lot of automated tools to help clear out this pesky malware. Viruses are constantly evolving, so there’s a good chance your antivirus program isn’t catching everything if you haven’t updated your antivirus definitions in a little while. Therefore, start by updating your antivirus software and doing a full scan. If you’ve let your antivirus subscription lapse and don’t want to pay for a renewal, consider using a free tool such as AVG Free (free.grisoft.com) or AOL’s Active Virus Shield (www.activevirusshield.com), which features the excellent Kaspersky antivirus engine. If your updated antivirus program detects and cleans anything, be sure to reboot a few times and repeat the scan; stubborn viruses may find a way to evade just one cleaning. If repeated cleanings won’t take care of a virus, it may have weaved itself into Windows and become impossible to clean with Windows running. In these cases, your best bet is to either transfer the hard drive to a second computer for scanning or use a self-booting CD with antivirus tools, the Ultimate Boot CD. Just remember, like any antivirus application, the Ultimate Boot CD’s included antivirus software will eventually become outdated, requiring you to manually download an updated version. Spyware can also slow things down when it kicks into gear and starts doing its job. You should obviously remove spyware along with any viruses you might find. Two free scanners, Ad-Aware SE (www.lavasoftusa.com) and Spybot Search & Destroy (www.safernetworking.org) do a pretty good job of clearing out most basic spyware, while Webroot’s Spy Sweeper (www.webroot.com/consumer/products/spysweeper) does an excellent job of clearing stubborn spyware infestations.

Identify & Solve Core Windows Problems
All versions of Windows have many programs running in the background, including drivers, services, and other applications. Occasionally, one or more of these programs begins having trouble and makes your whole system start acting oddly. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to see if any of these core applications are having problems and to take corrective action. Start by running the Event Viewer, which you can access by right-clicking the My Computer icon and clicking Manage from the pop-up menu. Then expand the Event Viewer icon in the tree on the left-side pane, revealing the Application, Security, and System logs. If you’re interested, Microsoft explains the purpose of these logs at support.microsoft.com/kb/308427, but, put simply, each log lists application, security, and system messages and warnings. You should look for warnings and errors that tend to frequently recur. Double-click an entry in the right-side pane to view the full message.

For example, if you saw the same hard disk page file error again and again, it may be time to update your motherboard’s drivers or run a diagnostic scan on the motherboard, hard drive controller, or hard drive. If you saw a driver that was unable to start repeatedly, consider looking for an updated driver or determine if the hardware that the driver controls is malfunctioning. If an antivirus updater constantly causes error messages, you should fix or replace your antivirus software. And if the exact nature of the error isn’t clear from the message, entering the message into an Internet search engine may yield solutions that have worked for other folks.

Eliminating Rogue Programs
If your PC is still acting slow or erratically, focus on software running in the background that’s commandeering too many resources. Even though most of this software is working exactly as intended, uninstalling or reconfiguring it may speed up your slow moving system. First, display the Windows Task Manager, which will launch when you press CTRL SHIFT ESC, and click the Processes tab. Then click the CPU column header twice to sort the list of background processes with the highest CPU utilization at the top. Take a few minutes to look over the column as it updates, noting what programs occasionally jump to the top of the list. You can leave this window open while you use other programs, allowing you see which programs are consuming the most of your system resources as you normally use your PC. In fact, if you only occasionally see a dramatic slowdown, you should keep this window open until the slowdown occurs and note the processes that jump to the top of the list.
After initially booting your computer, System Idle Process should consistently be 95 or higher, which basically means 95% of your system’s resources should be available. If it isn’t, then one or more other programs are consuming excess resources and are probably contributing to the slowdown. These programs should appear just underneath System Idle Process. Ideally, the programs will be obvious, such as WINWORD.EXE (Microsoft Word) or ipodservice.exe (Apple iTunes). For dealing with mysteriously named programs, Microsoft’s Process Explorer (www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/utilities/ProcessExplorer.mspx) does a good job of tracing a background program to its base application. If shutting down any of these programs restores your system to full speed, then you’ve found your problem. You may need to manually do this for multiple programs. If you’ve traced a slowdown to a busy background program and its parent application, you need to either replace it or make it play nice. First, open the program and try to find any settings to reduce CPU priority. We also suggest disabling any functions you don’t need or use. Alternatively, there may be a more efficient application that does essentially the same thing as your troublesome program. Try replacing one program with another (for example, using Zone Alarm Firewall instead of Norton Internet Security) to see if it’s less of a burden.

Lighten The Background Process Load
Once you’ve cleared away the gross offenders of CPU power consumption, the last thing to do is review all of the programs that automatically launch when Windows starts up and determine if any are unnecessary. The Task Manager lists how many processes are running at the bottom left corner of its window; if you have more than 50, you probably have more running than you really need. We cover this topic in detail in “Your PC Starts Slowly” (see page 56), but in a nutshell, run msconfig. Click Start and Run and type msconfig in the empty field. Click OK. When msconfig starts, click the Startup tab. The resulting list shows all your startup programs, and removing the checkmark next to an entry prevents it from starting alongside Windows.

Before using this method to force programs not to start during Windows’ startup, try disabling any auto-start functionality directly from within the program itself. The Payoff: Speed & Stability Hopefully, you’ll find that after you run through all these steps, your system feels far more sprightly and isn’t prone to weird pauses. And without the hiccups and delays, your overall computing experience should be that much better.

What To Do When . . .Your PC Starts Slowly

PCs that boot slowly are among the most common complaints users have, but there’s slow and then there’s slow. A computer that needs a minute between pressing the power button and letting you start a program is perfectly normal, even if those 60 seconds may feel like an eternity. A computer that takes a little longer may be suffering from a minor problem (or might just be an older machine), but a computer that takes four or five minutes (or more!) to get rolling is almost certainly suffering from one or more problems that need your attention. Most slow-boot problems have to do with software; specifically, there’s too much software running automatically when Windows boots, but this shouldn’t be the first thing you attempt to tackle. You should check hardware problems first. Follow that by checking for spyware and viruses, because these issues can undermine even the most thorough, intricate software cleaning job. And if you notice your boot process suddenly taking longer after recently adding new hardware or software, you may have already determind the root of your startup problem. Finally, although there may indeed be a smoking gun a large, single problem causing the delay long boots are frequently a result of many small delays and inefficiencies added together. Booting a computer requires dozens of sequential steps, so it’s certainly possible to save 60 seconds by eliminating 10 six-second delays.


Basic Hardware Checks
It isn’t uncommon for a computer to slow as one or more of its components starts to fail, and a slow boot may just be the only noticeable symptom. Fortunately, performing tests and checking the obvious is fairly easy. First, take a deep breath, open up the computer (assuming it isn’t a laptop), and turn it on. Check that all the fans are spinning. Some fans are temperature-sensitive and won’t speed up (or even start spinning) until things are warm, so consider leaving it running this way for a little while. Make a note of any fans that seem dead; have a professional replace them or, if you know what you’re doing, replace them yourself. Next, turn the PC off and take a good look at the CPU’s heatsink. (You may have to remove a plastic shroud that surrounds the CPU.) If it’s covered with dust and grime, clean it with a can of compressed air (readily available at most electronics stores) or a small brush. This ensures the CPU is cooling itself properly, because most modern CPUs throttle back to a lower clock speed if they’re overheating. And a lower clock speed can contribute to a slower boot process.

A marginally working CPU, hard drive, or memory module can also slow the boot process down, especially when the failing component still “sort of works.” For example, a failing hard drive might finally work after 10 attempts at reading from it, and Windows may retry using that failing hard drive many times before giving up. Fortunately, we recommend a free bootable CD called the Ultimate Boot CD, which you can download from www.ultimatebootcd.com. It has dozens of generic tests for your CPU and memory and includes all the major hard drive manufacturers’ hardware tests. And because it’s a bootable CD, you don’t need to load Windows (and, after all, loading Windows is really the problem in the first place) to run the disc’s tests. You can run through all the CPU tests in a few minutes, but let one of the memory checkers run overnight. The hard drive tests will only need a few minutes to do a quick check, but if you can spare another night, opt for running a deep test for better results. If your hardware checks out, you can move on.


BIOS Tweaks
When you fire up your PC, its BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) leaps into action, initializing hardware, testing RAM and other hardware, and looking for a bootable device. You can alter the tasks it performs by accessing your system’s BIOS setup. Immediately after you turn on your computer, take a close look at the screen for a message such as “Press F2 To Access BIOS Setup” or similar language and press that key. Your PC’s/motherboard’s users manual should also identify the appropriate keystroke. With luck, it may even describe some BIOS options. If your goal is to eliminate as many small delays as possible, then there are a few changes you can make to your BIOS. First, look for an option called Quick Boot and enable it; this eliminates some of the system tests during the boot. This feature’s name may vary on a different BIOS, but you should generally enable any option that appears to accelerate your boot speed. Next, move to the Hard Drive Detection (sometimes called IDE Detection) screens, and switch the IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) positions you know to be empty from Auto to None in other words, if you don’t have a Primary Slave IDE drive, set Primary Slave to None. You can identify an IDE drive by the flat, wide cable that connects the drive to the motherboard, but when you start making changes to your BIOS, always be certain you understand exactly what you’re changing. And if your system only uses SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) drives, then set all the IDE positions to None. Finally, if you never boot from a floppy diskette drive, CD/DVD ROM drive, USB device, or network connection, set the hard drive as your first boot device. This prevents your PC from checking for bootable media elsewhere every time.


Clearing Bad Parasitic Software
After you’ve eliminated any hardware issues and streamlined your BIOS, it’s time to deal with the bad software: viruses and spyware. If your computer boots slowly but works reasonably well once it completely boots, any malware that’s snuck into your system is probably a minor infestation, which means it’s probably one you can clear with automated tools. If you have antivirus software installed, it’s time to update your definitions and run a full scan. And if your commercial antivirus subscription (for example, Norton AntiVirus) has expired, either renew your subscription or uninstall what you have and install a free antivirus product, such as AVG Anti-Virus Free (free.grisoft.com) or AOL’s Active Virus Shield (www.activevirusshield.com). Because viruses evolve rapidly, it’s critically important to use an antivirus product with current definitions. Don’t bother with out-of-date antivirus software. Spyware can also bog down your boot, so you should clear that, too. Like antivirus software, antispyware products need current definitions to do an effective job, so update what you have before running a full system scan. If you don’t have any antispyware tools and don’t think you have a serious spyware problem, then try a couple of free programs to be safe. Most of the free scanners don’t have always-on components, and different scanners tend to focus on different types of threats; you can usually install a few and let them scan without worrying that one program will interfere with another. Two that work well together are Ad-Aware SE (www.lavasoftusa.com) and Spybot Search & Destroy (www.safer-networking.org). Perform each application’s antispyware scan individually instead of running them simultaneously.


Clearing “Good” Parasitic Software
It should come as no surprise that software often installs itself to automatically run every time Windows starts, but the sheer volume of this particular software that’s running on your system may shock you when you count it all up. Limiting your software that starts on boot to just the programs, utilities, and drivers you always need can dramatically reduce boot times. There are two challenges to face here. The first is finding a list of programs that start automatically, and the second is to know which programs you can safely disable at boot time. Fortunately, there’s a handy tool that’s built into every version of Windows (except Windows 2000) that shows you almost all your auto-start programs: msconfig. To run it, click Start and Run. Type msconfig and click OK. Next, click the Startup tab to see the auto-start list; a check mark next to an application means that it’s starting every boot, while an empty checkbox means the program is disabled. If you have Win2000 or want a more advanced tool, then try using AutoRuns for Windows (www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/utilities/Autoruns.mspx). Just extract the ZIP file you download and double-click Autoruns.exe to run it. Like Msconfig, each checked entry is set to run automatically at startup, and unchecking a program disables it at startup. (You’ll still be able to use program but will have to manually start it each time.) AutoRuns is more thorough in ferreting out auto-start programs, so its list is much longer than Msconfig’s and broken down into different autostart methods. To whittle that list and focus on third-party software, click Options, Hide Microsoft Entries, and the Refresh button. Regardless of which utility you choose, you shouldn’t just uncheck everything in the list. (Although interestingly, WinXP will run just fine and quite fast with everything disabled in the Msconfig Startup tab). Instead, you need to figure out what each item is and decide if it’s something that you really need to run every time Windows starts. For example, many peripherals, such as PDAs and game controllers, have supporting programs that start automatically every time (you can usually see their icons in the System Tray), but how often do you really HotSync your Treo or play a game? If you don’t frequently use the peripherals that require these support applications, consider disabling them at startup. When you plan to actually use the device, manually run the program instead. For example, only run the Palm HotSync Manager when you actually need to HotSync your PDA. You should only disable programs that you can properly identify; determining which programs you can disable occasionally requires some sleuthing. For example, you can track down an oddly named program, such as P17Helper, by doing an Internet keyword search. In this particular case, P17Helper is an ASIO (audio stream input output) driver for a Sound Blaster card, which allows for high-speed digital audio recording. If you never record digital audio, you should consider disabling it. Many Web sites that identify startup programs also state if you can safely disable the programs.Deciding what to disable can be tricky if you can’t find guidance online, but there are useful guidelines the adventurous can follow. If you disable a program related to hardware, reboot and see if the hardware still works. If it doesn’t, re-enable the program. Ditto for software application helpers make sure the main application they help still runs after you restart. Many programs, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat, and Real Player, preload some parts of an application into your system’s memory under the assumption that the associated applications will start a few seconds faster when you actually run them. You can safely disable these preloaders, but the trade-off is that your application might take a few extra seconds to load. Some applications install their own schedulers or version checkers, which is something you can usually do manually. Don’t forget to check for updates yourself if you disable these programs at startup. Ideally, when you identify a startup program you want to disable, you should disable it from within the program itself. If there’s no such option, simply uncheck its entry in Msconfig or AutoRuns.


The Payoff
By carefully pruning your autostart programs, optimizing the BIOS, and eliminating hidden malware, you should be able to reduce your boot time from three or four minutes to less than a minute. Over the course of a year of daily startups, that can really add up.


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