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Posts Tagged ‘xp’

XP update causing BSOD

February 12, 2010 Leave a comment

If, like me, you’re still trudging along with Windows XP, you may be concerned to hear that a security update is apparently causing havoc with a number of XP computers. Update KB977165 has caused a Blue Screens of Death for some XP users, which prevents them from booting into Windows. It is also alleged by some that there have been similar issues for the update in Windows Vista and 7, but this is unclear. Since not all those who have installed the update have encountered a problem, the trigger for problems remains unclear, it is alleged by some to be malware causing the error, whilst others suggest a hardware fault.

A lengthy support forum has been created on Microsoft’s support website, with these instructions for removing the update being provided:

1. Boot from your Windows XP CD or DVD and start the recovery console (see this Microsoft article for help with this step)

Once you are in the Repair Screen..

2. Type this command: CHDIR $NtUninstallKB977165$\spuninst

3. Type this command: BATCH spuninst.txt

4. When complete, type this command: exit

IMPORTANT: If you are able to uninstall the patch and get back into Windows, in order to stay protected you can use the following automated solution which secures your PC against the vulnerabilities that are resolved with KB977165 until you can successfully get the update installed without the blue screens.

Please see the link below for the article describing the vulnerability that is fixed with KB977165 and how you can get protected without installing the actual KB update: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/979682

Backup and restore drivers with DriverBackup 2

December 29, 2009 Leave a comment

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. 

Once you've picked what drivers to back up, there are a few simple options to choose before starting.

 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've picked what drivers to back up, there are a few options to choose before starting.

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?

Drivers can also be automatically restored using the software.

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. 

Create custom web-slices with LiveSlices

July 2, 2009 3 comments

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 Twitter WebSlice

The Twitter WebSlice

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.

Check if your system is ready for Windows 7 with Upgrade Advisor

Whilst no-one wants to think about the cold October days yet, they’ll be here before we know it. With Autumn comes Windows 7, and if you’re planning on installing it on your PC, you’ll probably want to make sure that everything you’re currently running will stay hunky-dorey. You can do so with the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor Beta, which also wins the award for software with the most unnecessarily long name.

The software will give you its conclusions and suggestions after it's finished checking.

The software will give you its conclusions and suggestions after it's finished checking.

Once downloaded and installed, you’ll be able to run it. It will then spend some time pottering around your computer, deciding what Windows 7 would get upset about if you were to install it. It will then advise you as best as it can about how to avoid the upset in the first place. It assesses: whether the PC meet the system requirements; whether your devices will function correctly; and whether there are any software incompatibilities.

Each item listed will show either a pleasing green tick which means “It’ll be fine, but run Windows Update after installing just to be safe”, or a slightly more scary-looking orange exclamation mark road sign which translates to “Oh dear, looks like that might not work. But it might still run, albeit with a few issues.” There are few tailored descriptions for incompatibilities – most just warn that the item might quietly implode if you upgrade, and advise that you seek an update from either Microsoft or the company who makes the software to avoid aforementioned implosion.

It’s still in beta, but in the final release it would be nice to receive more in-depth information about the incompatible items rather than just a stock definition for all of them. Even if you don’t find the software or device feedback useful, at least it will confirm for you whether your PC is capable of running Windows 7. You can download it from www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/upgrade-advisor.aspx.

Add tabs to your desktop with WindowTabs

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.

Three grouped windows and the WindowTabs option box showing some excluded applications

Three grouped windows and the WindowTabs option box showing some excluded applications

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.

Organise your desktop with Stardock Fences

June 29, 2009 2 comments

Whilst I do my utmost to keep the desktop on my laptop in pristine condition, the desktop on my other PC can sometimes get a build-up of shortcuts and quickly saved files. I have found a rather nice solution which can organise desktop icons into translucent mini-windows which can be easily moved, altered, and hidden at will. This solution takes the form of Stardock Fences.

Example fences and creating a new fence. Click to enlarge.

Example fences and creating a new fence. Click to enlarge.

The software serves two functions. The first and foremost of these is the ability to add sections to your desktop where you can group similar shortcuts. For instance, you may have shortcuts to your projects or work folders. You could make a fence for ‘Projects’, and within that you can collect all the shortcuts related to your work. The same can be repeated for all other categories that you wish to create.

The process of creating a ‘fence’ is easy – just hold the right mouse button, and drag a square. A label will then pop up which asks you if you’d like to create a new fence. Clicking it will cause a fence to fill the space you selected. You’ll then be prompted to name the fence. Finally, you can then drag shortcuts from your desktop, Start Menu, or folders into the new fence. You can remove them from the fence just as easily – simply by dragging them elsewhere. Alternatively, if you decide you want them scattered around disparately again, you can drag them back out and then delete the fence.

The other nifty feature of Fences is the ability to hide your desktop icons quickly and easily. Double-clicking on your desktop causes your icons to quickly fade out to nothing. This allows you to keep your desktop clean and simple, which helps you to look professional and avoid getting confuzzled. As soon as the boss is gone, you can double-click once more to have them appear again. You can nab this application from www.stardock.com/products/fences.

Customise your PC with UxStyle

June 28, 2009 2 comments

If you’re like me then you like to make your PC your own. Customisation with Windows PCs is fairly limited – out of the box you don’t have much choice with regard to themes. For this reason, many alternative solutions have popped up over time. These range from commercial applications to slightly dubious and potentially dangerous file changes. Having read a recent article, I’ve come across an alternative solution which is safe and seems to work rather smashingly. UxStyle allows you to use custom themes without paying a penny or involving yourself with altering Windows’ files.

Alduin theme for Windows XP. Many others are available if this doesn't tickle your fancy.

Alduin theme for Windows XP. Many others are available if this doesn't tickle your fancy. Click to view larger.

With regard to the UxStyle website, don’t be put off by the rather abrupt homepage – the developers have an incredibly dry sense of humour, which has the nasty side-effect of making you run a mile in fear that the software will make your PC explode. Fear not, for it won’t. After downloading and installing the software, you won’t actually notice anything different. However, it does run a service in the background which beats Windows into submission and allows you to install custom themes on XP, Vista, and Windows 7 . The latter may be more prone to getting upset by the software, though. The aforementioned service should set itself to run at startup, this will let you apply custom themes and keep them for the next restart.

Despite the claims to the contrary with the “Talk to us, let us laugh at your problems” button, the developers are actually very helpful, and on the forums I was able to find a solution to the problem I was having. It had already been asked by someone else and solved promptly by the developers. Their solution worked, and my problem is now fixed. A party followed.

“Where do I get these custom themes?!” I hear you cry. There is one primary spiffing source – Deviant Art. Within the category of visual styles you can find many user-created themes ready and waiting for download. These will ususally need to be unzipped since they were compressed to make your download faster. If you’re not able to unzip the packages with Windows’ built-in unzipping software, you can use the free 7Zip. An article about this will follow shortly. I’ve been very impressed with the breadth and quality of themes available out there – ranging from simple colour changes to full-blown appearance overhauls, such as making your Windows PC look like a Mac. In addition to user-created themes, UxStyle is planning on adding a theme manager with the product soon, which will include themes and extra customisation options.

When you download a theme, you need to copy the files to Windows’ theme directory. This is located at C:\Windows\Resources\Themes .  Some themes just come with the Visual Style file; others come with additional shell files. Create a new folder in your themes folder for the theme, then copy in the style theme. If it also has an accompanying shell folder, copy this over too. This is less confusing than it sounds, but if I haven’t explained it well, there are better instructions given by Lifehacker below:

  • .Theme files must be in the /Themes/ folder, not within any subfolders.
  • .MSStyles files must be in their own sub-folders. If the style name is NewStyle.msstyles, then sub folder in /Themes/ must be /Themes/NewStyle/
  • If your style pack came with a shellstyle.dll, that also goes within it’s own subfolder, i.e. /Themes/NewStyle/shell/
  • If you have any problem with loading a style or theme, go back and double check for spelling and capitalization. The names are case sensitive. If a file has a combination of upper and lower case letters, the folder name you place it in must be spelled exactly the same

If you have difficulty with the above, I’m more than happy to provide screenshots or a video to show it. It makes more sense when you look at your own folders. The themes are applied in the same way as default Windows themes – through the appearance properties window.

I haven’t noticed any negative side-effects from using the software, and I’ve been enjoying theming my XP desktop, which acts as my testing machine. I was dubious about doing it to start with, but it seems to be fine. I’ll be moving onto changing the themes on my beloved Vista laptop next. However, it should be noted that the software is still in beta, and you may encounter a glitch or two. You can download the software from www.uxstyle.com, and the forums are at www.uxstyle.com/talk. Happy skinning!