We’ve probably all been there at some point. Something’s gone majorly wrong with your PC, and you’re left with no choice but to reinstall Windows. If you’ve not backed up your files, you’ll weep for a while at their loss, before summoning the strength to slam that installation disk into the drive and watch as the progress bar crawls across. However, an issue you’re likely to encounter, especially if you’re still using XP, is missing drivers. I know from experience that XP never seems to find all the drivers I need, resulting in hardware not working, and the display only accepting a tiny resolution until I hunt down the disks or download the necessary drivers using another PC. With XP approaching its ninth birthday, it’s likely to become harder and harder to find the drivers you need next time you have to reinstall, so keeping a backup of them would be a rather smashing idea. Luckily there are a few smashing bits of software that will do just that for you. I’ve been testing out one such utility, called DriverBackup 2, and it’s rather jazzy.
The first thing to note is that it doesn’t need to be installed, which is a nice timesaver, though I would rather just be able to run an installer and be done with it. Instead, you just need to grab the files, and run the .exe called ‘DrvBK’ once they’ve downloaded. If you’d rather have it installed like all other software, just make a new folder in your C:\Program Files\ directory, and then copy or move all the files over. You can then make a shortcut in your Start Menu or desktop to the .exe file and access it like any other bit of software. Dull bits out the way, let’s delve into the thrilling world of backing up drivers.
If you’re using XP, you’ll just need to start the software like any other, but Vista and Windows 7 will likely want you to right-click and choose ‘Run as administrator’. DriverBackup will then scour your installed drivers, before presenting a lengthy list of them under their relevant categories: ‘Processors’, ‘Keyboards’, etc. A small but nice touch is that the software will display the default Windows icon for each item, making it easy to visually distinguish between the multitude of different types. Little ‘+’ icons appear to the left of each category and device, allowing you to expand and hide devices and individual drivers for each device.
There is also a checkbox by each entry, allowing you to pick and choose which drivers you want to backup. Whilst Windows will find a good number of the drivers by itself at install – particularly for important devices like the processor, hard-disk, and graphics card - I’d rather have them all backed up so I know I’ve got them all safe and ready to use if something should go horribly wrong. In addition, clicking on a device or individual driver file will give you more information about it, such as manufacturer and release date, which may help you decide whether you need to include it in your backup.
Once you’re ready to begin, click the ‘Start Backup’ button near the bottom right of the software. You’ll then be confronted with a window that looks a bit daunting. You can just ignore most of it, except ‘Path’, which instructs the software where to save the backup. I prefer to create a folder on my PC for the backup, and then copy it manually to an external disk, USB, or hard-disk, but if you’d prefer, you can just make the backup directly to an external device like the ones listed above. Wherever you’re sticking the files, click the ‘Browse’ button, and navigate to that location. The second and final thing that you need to alter on this screen is the checkbox down at the bottom left: ‘Generate files for automatic driver restoration’. Ticking this will ensure that the software creates an additional file that allows you to restore the drivers using DriverBackup 2, which means you won’t have to use Windows’ built-in Device Manager to install them all manually. In addition, it might be a good idea to keep the DriverBackup 2 files around on a disk, since you might not be able to connect to the Internet to download the software again until you’ve got your drivers sorted. Irony, eh?
Finally, let’s venture into the dangerous, disturbing hypothetical world of doom. Your hard-disk had just exploded in a small ball of flames, or a less disastrous but equally disturbing error has befallen your beloved PC. You’ve gotten it fixed or replaced the faulty part, and now you’ve reinstalled Windows. However, some of your devices aren’t working correctly. So long as you can find the dust-covered disk you stored the drivers on, you can restore them in one of two ways. The first is the slower, more nerdy way – manually using Windows device manager. The second is the faster method, which involves using DriverBackup. Since you won’t have it on your cleanly installed PC, if you copied it to your driver backup disk, you can just copy it back onto your PC, or if you didn’t, you’ll need download it on another PC if you can’t access the Internet, and then transfer it over. You can then run the software as before, but this time change to ‘Restore mode’ using the second button at the top of the software, and select the backup file (provided you opted to create one when you backed up your drivers.) Click the ‘Open backup file’ button, navigate to and select the relevant file. As with the process of backing up, you can then tick and untick those that you want to restore, before finally clicking the ‘Restore’ button at the bottom right to pop the drivers back onto your PC. DriverBackup will then beaver about, restoring your drivers to their rightful place. You’ll probably need to restart before you can check that everything’s working okay.
Since the download available on SourceForge is, by default, in Italian, and it take a bit of hunting to find the multi-language version, I’ve uploaded the English-only version to MediaFire, which can be accessed here: http://www.mediafire.com/?rwawglidj1z. I’ve zipped up the file to make it smaller, but Windows should be able to extract it using its built-in tools. In summary, DriverBackup is a smashing little bit of kit that could help save you a great deal of time next time you need to reinstall Windows or something goes wrong with your drivers. It just falls short of a 5-star rating due to the kerfuffle of having to look through the folder for the right file to run the software, and the lack of automatic method of installation for the software.
We’ve probably all done it – copied something useful that we needed to paste elsewhere, and then forgotten and copied something else. This’ll result in losing the first thing that you have copied, and unless you can find the original source again, it’s destined to float in the abyss forever. However, Windows clipboard is capable for holding more than one item at a time; you just need a bit of software to bring out the full potential. This exists in the form of 101 Clips.
After installing, the first thing I noted was the simple and fairly dated interface. I soon discovered however, that it’s enough to get the job done that it’s intended for. There are a number of small rectangles, each of which can become filled with an item which is on your clipboard. It’ll place the most recent in the first space, and the others will get pushed backwards. It would be nice to be able to customise the number of rows and columns provided. A minor issue, but being able to alter this may be a useful addition.
101 Clips will reside in your system tray – down by the clock. It’ll then store up all the items that you copy without making a fuss. These copied items can then be seen by clicking the icon to open up the software. Hovering over one of the listed items will bring up a small preview window which shows the copied text, image, or file link. Clicking on the item will then place it back at the front of the clipboard, allowing you to paste it to another location. One limitation I found was that if you copy a file or shortcut, clicking it in 101 Clips won’t allow you to paste it into Windows explorer as you would expect. Instead, it saves the location of the file as text.
If you find that there are items on the clipboard that you no longer need, they can be right-clicked to delete them. Doing this will prevent the number of items getting cluttered, and clips should be easier to find. There are also a few options as to which buttons are displayed in the software, which can be accessed from the menus at the top of the window. Something to be aware of is that closing the window will close the software completely, including the system tray icon. If you want to keep using it without having the window on the screen, minimizing the window will zip it back into the tray, patiently waiting for you to call on it again.
Being the fool that I am, I shut my computer down before realising that I hadn’t taken a screenshot of the 101 Clips software showing the functionality. Duty-bound, I switched it back on expecting to have to begin my copying frenzy again, but was pleasantly surprised to see that it had remembered the copied items from before it was shut down. This meant that everything stored there could be clicked to allow me to paste it if I needed to; a helpful feature that could prove very useful if your PC crashes.
Whilst the software has a simple purpose and an uninviting interface, it’s incredibly useful and likely to leave you wondering how you survived without it. 101 Clips can be downloaded from http://101clips.com/freeclip.htm.
I love organising things. Anything that involves putting bits of paper in different trays according to content or importance; putting work into folders; or planning my day, is bound to cause me to get slightly heady with excitement at the prospect. You may have already read about my love affair with Soshiku when it comes to organising educational work, but I’ve stumbled upon a piece of software which aims to organise my entire life, rather than just my work. I’ve been putting the smashing application through its paces to see if it’ll become part of my regular rotation of organisation. It goes by the name of Chandler. “Could it be any more organised?”
First impressions weren’t too good. It’s written in a programming language called Python, which, whilst being extendible and apparently smashing for cross-platform software, seems to be a bit clunky and slow loading. I have to wait for what feels like too long for an out of place looking ‘loading’ splash window to finish shoving a bar across itself to show me how close it is to finished shuffling about. This is a bit of a let down since you’re likely to want your to-do list to pop up quickly so you can view and edit it in a short amount of time.
Putting this aside, the first thing which stood out was the ability to separate tasks and events into categories. I therefore set about creating one for each school subject, followed by a few others such as ‘Wedding’ and a category called ‘Revnews’. Within these categories tasks you can create tasks by typing a name for it in the text box at the top of the window, and then pressing enter. You can then edit and add extra details about the task and set when it must be completed by. This seemed a bit limited since I would like to be able to set specific dates, or even times, for when something must be completed by. It is possible to create calendar events which specify an end time, but this isn’t implemented for tasks. Therefore there’s no page which sorts your tasks in the order that they need to be completed, but simply shows them by whether you’ve selected – ‘now’, ‘later’, or ‘done’ for each task. This also needs to be manually updated by clicking the ‘Clean up’ button which will sort the tasks into the aforementioned completion categories; it won’t do it automagically when you change a task’s status, another example of how the software felt a bit clunky at times.
I was, however, happy with the different categories for the tasks. Whilst I would place each task in its relevant category, I am also able to see all currently outstanding tasks on the ‘Dashboard’ page, which sorts them by their completion categories. This is good for organising a whole day (or longer) by seeing all tasks which need to be completed that day, rather than just those in one category. If particularly important tasks aren’t standing out enough, you can put a star by them, and then choose the option to show only the starred items. This might be helpful for prioritising a multitude of tasks.
Chandler also has email functions which allow you to send notes or events to others – they can either view them in Chandler if they have it or add it to other calendar applications. I haven’t tested this feature because I have no intention of emailing my to-do list to other people, but at least the feature is there, ready and waiting to be set up in case you can make use of it.
Despite the negatives it’s still a very good bit of software. I think it’s going to become my standard organiser, though Soshiku still has a much simpler interface and is generally better for the purpose of organising work for school, so I’m likely to stick with Soshiku as my primary organiser for school work. You can download Chandler from www.chandlerproject.org.
Whilst Windows Media Player suffices for most video files, it’ll refuse to play some without installing numerous codecs. These codecs can cause slowdown, and some video types don’t have codecs that work with Media Player. Therefore, you’re going to need an alternative if you want to play some odd video files. VLC Media Player allows you to this, and best of all, free of charge.
When running the software you’ll be greeted by a simple interface. VLC lacks the media library and such features that Media Player sports, but it seems to be intended for a slightly different purpose. Media is opened from the ‘Media’ menu, where you can then browse through your folders to find the file, folder, or disk that you want to play. You can even open media streams from a local network through the same menu.
The quality of the playback seemed to be pretty good; possibly better than Windows Media Player’s offering, but with no obvious differences between them. However, it’s difficult to judge since Media Player won’t play most of the files which VLC will, so I can’t compare. The interface, whilst not being the most attractive offering, is feature-rich and customisable if you’re willing to explore the menus and options within. I was very impressed with the various choices which are available; everything from audio output to network proxies can be set. This plethora of options lets you customise just about every detail of the software, allowing you to make it work exactly the way you want it to.
If you think of yourself as being one of those artsy types, you might not be impressed that VLC doesn’t, visually speaking, look quite right when compared to most of your other software. Luckily, like-minded people have come to the rescue by creating skins which can be downloaded from the VLC website. These can be downloaded and applied to your player to change the way it looks. You might want to consider the Media Player theme, which makes it look the same as Windows Media Player – the software you’re probably used to grappling with. Or, if you’re a fan of Apple’s brushed aluminium style, you might wish to opt for an iTunes or Quicktime lookalike. However, all these themes seem to take it upon themselves to hide the menus away, making them difficult to access, and unless I’m missing something, making some of them impossible to access until you revert to the default theme. This is fine if you just want to open files, but I like to have easy access to the menus at whim.
VLC is a smashing little bit of software for playing obscure video and audio files. It’s also very small in size and pretty lightweight, so it won’t be a drain on your hard-drive or system resources. You can download it from www.videolan.org.
Software companies always seem to be updating their programs with new releases. New features and security improvements are usually added, which is of course spiffing. However, you may have downloaded a new version of software and found it bloated, slow, or simply broken. Therefore it’s always nice to be able to download older software to use instead. Whether you pine for the rustic days of iTunes 4, or you’re in need of an old version of Firefox for testing purposes, you’ll be covered at oldversion.com and oldapps.com.
Both sites contain large directories of different types of software, ranging from web browsers to graphics software. Each category contains various software, all with a number of different versions. You can choose one of these to download and install. If you already have a newer version of the software installed, you’ll probably need to uninstall that first, or it will likely detect it and refuse to install.
Both websites contain forums where you can request software which isn’t currently in the archives, or discuss with like-minded people the ancient software which you’re using. You can also receive support for things that might have gone wrong with your software or PC.
Whilst older versions of software can bring back memories of simpler times and be useful, you should exercise caution when choosing to use dated versions; there are likely to be security holes which haven’t been filled and will therefore potentially put you at risk from attacks. However, if you’re convinced that newfangled software isn’t for you, older versions will go well with your pennyfarthing. Since newer isn’t always better, you can get yourself over to www.oldversion.com and www.oldapps.com to sample the delights of software from years past.
You may have jumped on online storage bandwagon. I store things online occasionally, but I’ve never liked the fact that I have to wander off to the storage website to access and edit my documents. Therefore, some time ago I went off hunting for a way to access my online documents using Windows Explorer. I found it in the form of Gladinet. I’ve only recently rediscovered it tucked away in my Start Menu. Having brushed off the layers of dust, I decided I would babble about it here since you might find it of use.
After downloading and installing, a little icon should appear in the notification area which provides various options for mounting your online storage. I’m still using a beta version of software since I installed it quite a while ago, and it’s working just fine for my purposes. However, the release version is now up to version 1.1, and it brings along new features and a better interface which makes it easier to add your online services to Gladinet. You’ll need to have the software running in order to be able to access your online storge from Explorer; which is why it’s set to start with your PC by default. You can change this by alterting the options. If you don’t use your online storage very often, you may not want it starting automatically.
Online storage locations are mounted as drives. This means that there will be a new item added to your ‘Computer’ window which represents your online storage. Within that you’ll then have listed the different resources that you’ve added. For instance, I currently only have one online storage location set up within mine. I could add others using Gladinet if I wished to. The best feature of this software is that it allows you to interact with the files as if they were stored locally on your hard-drive. This means that you can copy, move, delete, rename, and other such jazz in the same way you would with an ordinary file that’s saved on your PC.
If you use online storage hopefully you’ll find this useful. It cuts out the necessity of visiting the storage website. It also allows you to quickly edit documents, especially in such activities as copying and deleting. You can download it from www.gladinet.com and give it a spin.
The LiveSlice website has been down for a number of weeks. It appears that it might not be returning.
During my brief stint with IE8 I’ve been making the most of the features that it has to offer. One of these is web-slices. You can also grab an addon for Firefox which replicates this feature, but doesn’t seem to work quite so well. However, the number of webslices provided by site admins is a bit limited. I therefore went on the hunt for a way to create my own. Low and behold, the Internet has an answer in the form of LiveSlices.
The site’s aim is pretty simple – create new webslices and enable users to create their own. The site doesn’t yet have many of their own creation, however, the ones it does have are quite useful. I especially like the Twitter slice, which allows you to keep track of your updates from Twitter without visiting the website or using one of the bajillions of third-party Twitter applications vying for your use. As with all other WebSlices, the text changes to bold if there’s new updates, then clicking the item in the favourites toolbar pops a little box down which lets you see your updates without leaving the webpage you’re currently on.
Aside from the rather spiffing Twitter slice, another great feature of the website is the ability to create your own slice from an RSS feed. I’ve never particularly liked RSS feeds because I’ve never seen the reason behind having updates to websites hidden away in your bookmarks. Therefore having an RSS feed in a web-slice makes more sense to me. It will add a drop-down item onto your favourites toolbar which can be clicked to see the latest updates to the feed. I’ve got three news sources – one of which was custom-made with LiveSlices, and a few from other sources. In order to create your own RSS WebSlice you simply need to go to website you want to keep track of, find the RSS feed and copy/paste the URL into LiveSlice’s webpage for creating your own custom RSS slice. You will also need to provide a name and a couple of other settings when doing this. You can then click ‘Install’ to have the slice added to your favourites bar. I had trouble a couple of times when the slice didn’t work correctly when clicked and would refer me to a webpage instead of appearing in a box. I found that deleting it and trying again fixed this.
LiveSlices is a spiffing little website. They’re also working on creating a slice to allow you to add Facebook to your favourites bar. You might be concerned that you’ll end up spending your whole time looking at your social updates from Twitter, but you can counter-balance that by creating your own unsociable feeds for news sources and other such jazzy locations. You can get the feeds and create your own at www.liveslices.com.