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.
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.
I have obsessive-complusive organisational needs. If things are related to the same topic, surely they should be together? Window Tabs comes to the rescue by adding a tab to the top of every application. These tabs can then be dragged around to group them with other applications or documents which are of a similar content. This allows you to have a group for each different thing you’re working on or looking at.
The software is a very quick install, and as soon as it’s finished the tabs pop up on top of your currently running programs and files. They look quite like Chrome tabs, and they work in a similar way too. You can click and drag one to move it about, and let go when it’s sitting next to a similar tab. The provided screenshot provides an example of three grouped items which share the same subject. In addition, I’ve shown the options window.
There are probably some applications which you don’t want to have tabs appearing at the top. Such as your web browser, because it already includes them, or other applications which you’ll probably never want to group with other files or programs. I’ve chosen to exclude Spotify as well, since I don’t see it fitting into a grouped category as its purpose is different.
Three is the magic number. This is the basic, free version, so it doesn’t let you have anything more than three items in each group. That means if you’re working on lots of documents, spreadsheets and other such jazz all related to the same thing, you won’t be able to group them all together. Unfortunate, but at least it’s free.
The application will work under XP and Vista, and it should be okay under the Windows 7 RC, too. Try it out and see what you think. I personally haven’t kept it, since I use multiple desktops for different areas (see the previous article about Virtuawin). In addition, I think the tabs look out-of-place when compared to the way Windows looks. I think they ought to blend in with the Windows’ themes, rather than looking like Google Chrome’s tabs. If you come to the same conclusion as me, it’s a very easy and quick uninstall, so no worries there. Grab it from www.windowtabs.com if you want to give it a go.