Sunday, December 28, 2008

Vista's UAC - Stop the Nag

This article shows how to disable UAC prompts only in the Start Menu while leaving the rest of UAC enabled. This stops one of its most annoying nags without compromising security.
Vista's User Access Control (UAC) is the primary reason people dislike Vista and many power-users disable the feature. Microsoft made it so invasive that it became the butt of Apple jokes and it is the bane of almost everyone.

This article shows how you can easily leave the feature turned on while disabling one of its most annoying nags. The changes I am recommending will not compromise your security.


See this article for Windows 7: Disable Windows 7 UAC Nags

A Refresher:

UAC prompts for permission each time an application attempts to install or if you enter a "secured area" of the operating system.

These are legitimate prompts and Microsoft is trying to protect you. But if you are building a new computer and are installing dozens of applications and utilities, UAC becomes a nuisance and I recommend turning it off during the computer's initial build. Follow these steps:

Turning UAC On and Off:

A. Open the Windows Control Panel (Start, Settings, Control Panel).
B. Tunnel to "User Accounts"
C. Click "Turn User Account Control On or Off"

But after the PC is built, UAC should be turned ON.

As your computer ages, UAC prompts become less frequent for no other reason than you are not installing as many applications. If you do install a new application, or if you open a protected area of the operating system, expect to be prompted. If you disable UAC permanently, you are leaving your PC vulnerable to viruses, spyware and other applications which can install without your knowledge.

Fixing Icon Prompts:

However, if you are like me, you are always fiddling with Start Menu and Desktop icons and when moving or deleting icons, UAC is merciless with its prompts. Why UAC is so concerned about a mere Start-Menu icon is beyond me, but with a minor security change, you can disable UAC in these areas while leaving the rest intact. Follow these steps:
1. Open Windows Explorer
Select menu Organize, Layout, Check "Menu Bar"
(This exposes the File, Edit menus)

2. Select top-menu, Tools, Folder-options, View (View Tab)
In the Advanced-settings checkbox list,

* Show Hidden files and folders
[ ] Hide Extensions for known file types (uncheck)
[ ] Hide Protected Operating System Files (uncheck)

Click Apply
Click Apply to Folders

3. Close and re-open Windows Explorer
Tunnel to each of these two folders:

C:\Users\Public\Desktop
C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\StartMenu


4. "Other-Mouse-Click" the folder, choose Properties.
Click the Securities Tab, then Edit
Select your user-account from the list (or select "Everyone")
Click "Full-Control"
Click OK
Repeat for the other folder.

Click image for a larger view; click right-x to return

Microsoft made significant changes to the UAC in Windows version 7, but until then, consider this idea in order to remove some of the frustration. If possible, consider upgrading to Windows 7; it is a better operating system than Vista.

See these related articles:
Windows 7 UAC Icon Nags
Vista Spiffs 1
Optimizing the Windows Paging File
Disk Cleanup Steps

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tame Web-Browser Cookies

This article discusses how you can control Browser Cookies and stop, at least, some advertising sites from tracking your history.


This article is obsolete.  See this newer Keyliner article:
http://keyliner.blogspot.com/2016/09/stop-tracking-cookies-using-whack-mole.html


Browser Cookies (small data-files that web-sites leave on your hard disk) are good and bad. Your online banking site, blogging tools, or Amazon.com legitimately use these files to help you log in and remember preferences and in general, you must allow Cookies for websites that have login screens or data-entry forms -- but even then, the cookies are only needed at the moment of log in and can usually be discarded. Most people do not have their browsers set in this fashion.

For a majority of other sites, cookies are optional and they offer no benefit to you. Almost every banner ad generates a cookie. These "3rd-party" cookies track which websites you have visited, how long you were there and how frequently you visit. They use this information to display targeted advertising and then sell the demographic information gathered to other companies.

Most cookies are an invasion of privacy and they slow down your computer. An average computer has thousands of cookies, occupying disk space and internet bandwidth. Here is how you can tame them in both FireFox and Internet Explorer.

MOZILLA FIREFOX BROWSER OPTIONS

Modifying your Browser's Cookie options.

1. With Mozilla's Firefox, select Tools, Options, Privacy.
Check these boxes:

[X] Accept cookies from sites
[X] Accept third-party cookies
Select "Keep until 'I close Firefox'"

2. Click "Show Cookies" and browse the list, noting those sites which are obviously advertising sites. In particular, note doubleclick.net, which is one of the main targets of this article.

3. In the same Firefox Privacy-screen, click the "Exceptions" button.
Block "doubleclick.net" and any other site that caught your attention by typing the name.


If you have multiple user-accounts on the same computer, you will have to do these steps for each account.

Later in this article are other methods for blocking these types of sites.

INTERNET EXPLORER BROWSER OPTIONS

To make the same changes with Internet Explorer, do the following:

1. Select Tools, Internet Options, Privacy-tab.
2. Set the "Settings" slider-bar to Medium High.
3. Click the "Advanced" button.

[X] Override automatic Cookie Settings,
[X] Accept First-Party,
[X] Block third-party Cookies
[X] Always allow session Cookies

4. Return to the first Privacy screen, click "Sites"
5. Add "doubleclick.net" to the Exclusion list.

If you have multiple user-accounts on the same computer, do these steps for each account.


Using the etc/Hosts file to block Sites:

Another popular, although somewhat geeky way to block a site, is to use the "etc/hosts" file (pronounced "etsy-hosts"). In the past, this simple file translated friendly names into IP addresses, but with the advent of DNS routing servers on the internet, the file fell into dis-use and yours is likely empty.

You can also use this file to redirect websites into the proverbial bit-bucket. I use this method for high-volume sites like doubleclick.net and it works for all browsers.

Steps to Modify the HOSTS file:

1. With Windows Vista, click Start, Programs, Accessories. "Other-mouse-click" Notepad and select "Run as Administrator."

With Windows XP, click Start, Run, type "Notepad.exe" and press enter.

2. File-open this filename:
"C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts."
(where you must type the dot, no extension)

The file is a simple ascii-text file, mostly composed of #comments. Click the illustration below to view; click your browser's back-arrow to return.


3. Copy the text from the chart below and paste into the file. Paste after the first localhost statement. You can optionally type the statements by hand; be sure to include the "127.0.0.1" and separate the columns with spaces. Don't worry, you can't really mess this up, even if you type them wrong (the worse that could happen is it doesn't block the site) but one warning: Do not add legitimate websites to this list unless you want them disabled.

Initial Recommended List:

127.0.0.1 localhost
127.0.0.1 doubleclick.net
127.0.0.1 ad.doubleclick.net
127.0.0.1 adds.doubleclick.net
127.0.0.1 doubleclick.com
127.0.0.1 ad.doubleclick.com
127.0.0.1 adds.doubleclick.com
127.0.0.1 123banners.com
127.0.0.1 adforce.com

127.0.0.1 imgis.com
127.0.0.1 advertising.com

127.0.0.1 teknosurf.com
127.0.0.1 appnet.com
127.0.0.1 avenuea.com

127.0.0.1 bluestreak.com
127.0.0.1 burstmedia.com
127.0.0.1 burstnet.com
127.0.0.1 engage.com
127.0.0.1 extreme-dm.com
127.0.0.1 l90.com
127.0.0.1 stats.net

127.0.0.1 valueclick.com

127.0.0.1 websidestory.com
127.0.0.1 fastclick.net
::1 localhost

Note:  You cannot use wildcards in a Windows Hosts. file.  Each variant of a domain must be listed explicitly.  To work around this, see this keyliner article:  http://keyliner.blogspot.com/2016/09/stop-tracking-cookies-using-whack-mole.html


How it works:
If any website tries to connect to "doubleclick.net", the hosts file intercepts the call (by design, this checks the name-resolution before the ISP's DNS server does). When the name is found, it looks across for the IP address. Since this address is the "localhost", this part of the webpage goes nowhere and the advertisement is stopped. On a screen, offending advertisements may "disappear," leaving a hole in the web page. Webpages will load faster.

4. Close and save the file.
Changes take effect immediately.

If you can't save the file (Vista), you probably did open Notepad as an Administrator or, if Windows XP, the file may be flagged Read-Only in Explorer; you can unflag the file by looking at the file's properties.

Also, if you are running a decent virus or spyware scanner, it will intercept writes to this file (in year's past, many-a-virus fiddled with this file). Grant permission to update. For example, Vista's "Windows Defender" prompts with this screen and you need to click "Ignore":



If you were to search, you would find other Internet sites with lists that are thousands of entries long and I'm sure they are all good sites to block, but many will be obscure and you may never visit them. My belief is this list can get too cumbersome. Without better information, I recommend keeping the list relatively short, at most a couple of hundred entries.

Conclusion:

Making these changes will cut down on the number of cookies your computer accepts; this will improve your privacy and has the potential to stop some advertisements from reaching your browser. If you use Mozilla's Firefox, consider also a fabulous program called "AdBlock Plus", which is free. See this article: Recommended Firefox Plugins

Finally, this note: This blogging tool, hosted by blogspot.com, is owned by Google and Google is the same company who bought doubleclick.net. Doubleclick.net is notorious for the amount and quality of information they gather on web-surfers. Tracking is theoretically "not personally identifiable", but when capturing IP Addresses, they come remarkably close. This is one place where Google caught a lot of heat and seems to violate their own company policy of "doing no evil." [Update: At the end of 2008, Double-Click announced it would no longer track surfing habits, noting consumer feedback. Some advertisers balked at being associated with Double-Click. Even though Double-Click will stop tracking, this articles premise still holds: why even allow your browser to connect.]

You may find these articles informative: Wikipedia: Doubleclick.net
and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HOSTS_file


Related articles:
Keyliner: Stop tracking Cookies using whack-a-mole
 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

BlogSpot and Sitemeter

Use Sitemeter to watch who is visiting your blog. The tool literally counts visitors to your site and gathers rough demographics. With it, you can usually see how they reached your site and what they used in their search engines; this can help you fine-tune your pages to better serve your readers.

Update: Since this article was originally written, I now am using a product called StatCounter. See this article for an overview -- but this article still explains why you want to track statistics.

I've been experimenting with Google's Blogspot.com and have enjoyed publishing articles both in a printed newsletter and here on Blogspot. Yesterday, out of curiosity, I added a SiteMeter (sitemeter.com) to the site and yesterday, I received my first report.

Sitemeter reported 8 hits.

Five hits were from locations in Russia, Asia and NewZeland. Equally interesting, they only viewed the two pages I had posted that night. They were probably harvesting email addresses for spam.

Next, a person from Romania was on the site for 40 seconds, reviewing a recent article on hard-disk backup programs. Blogspot showed a new comment was posted at that same time. Here is the message they left, with some of the details obfuscated for obvious reasons:

Anonymous said...
I protect my files and emails with a very easy to use data backup software called xxxxx Backup, the destination is a 500gb WD harddisk, but the company stated that an online feature is under work also. Give it a free trial here. I also got my hands on a 30% discount coupon from them, during the order process enter this coupon code: xxxxx-xxxxx.

What a life-like comment. In that 40 seconds, they recognized the topic of the article, and recognized anonymous comments were allowed and they inserted an appropriately-targeted advertisement. I later learned they hire people to manually read the articles and they insert targeted comments, by hand; this is how they get past the Captcha phrase:


On the good news, the remaining two people, one from California and the other from New York were apparently real users. Each spent 7 minutes, with Sitemeter reporting the following information about the New York visitor: (Click image for a larger sample view; back to return. This illustration is from a user in Saco Maine, USA.)


(His) ISP is ChoiceOne.Net, out of Pittsford, NY and he is running Windows XP, and Mozilla FireFox. I could see he entered my Acronis-Disk-backup article and then glanced at the Disk Cleanup article before leaving.

The "Referring URL" often shows what webpage they are coming from and almost always, this is a Google search. Clicking this link shows exactly what they typed while searching and this gives me a clue on how close my page is to the visitor's search.

FireFox users often turn off the Referring URL, so this information is not always available. But the Maine user had his on and I could tell they used Internet Explorer 6 and in Google's search, the typed: "microsoft office word lost fragments .tmp vanish". Here is the exact page they were in when they found the link to my article.


Periodically, I visit Sitemeter's statistics page and randomly choose visitors to see where they are from and what they are looking for. Based on their searches, several of my articles were modified so the results are more relevant. Often, I have re-arranged the content of the article, making what they are searching easier to find. For example, my article on Vista Network problems and A-cronis vs G-host generate a surprising number of hits. Because of this, I have continued to improve and tune the articles, based on reader searches.

Installing Sitemeter on your blog:

Sitemeter's knowledge base has great instructions, including a video demo, on the exact steps needed to install sitemeter on your site and for this reason, I am not repeating them here. Basically, copy-and-paste a paragraph of Java code into your [blogspot] template design and you are set Direct Link

My compliments to Sitemeter for building such an interesting and yet slightly disturbing tool and compliments to Google for their most excellent blogging tool.

Other Articles you may be interested in:
StatCounter (a competitor)
Vista Spiffs - For performance
Taming Browser Cookies
Stopping the most annoying Vista UAC Nags
Recommended Firefox Add-ons
Vista's Mountain Wallpaper

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brother HL-1020 Laser

Product Review: Brother HL-1020 Laser Printer: An adequate device with a huge power-bill.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: At home, buy two printers: A black-and-white laser for day-to-day work and yell at the kids when they print in color. Nothing has changed except now, after 10 years, our venerable HP Laser 1100 has mercifully run out of toner.

The 1100 is an attractive and well-engineered device that I've written about before but all mechanical things, especially ones this old, are allowed to have problems. The page-separator pads need replacing (again) and the pickup rollers and fuser are having some issues. I bought the printer used and while I've known it, I've bought three $60 toner cartridges. We got 5 years out of the first cartridge, 3 out of the second... you can see where this is trending. This must have something to do with children. They say it cost about $600,000 to raise a kid; a quarter of that must be ink, toner and paper.

In any case, it was just a few short months ago, in this very space, I whimpered about the inkjet running out of ink and how it seemed cheaper to buy a new printer, which I did. Could I do the same with the laser? It was hard, but I succeeded. After much shopping, I found Staples had a Brother HL-2040 Laser printer, regularly $120, on sale for $80 plus a $20 rebate, bringing the total cost to $60 (by the time you read this, the rebate will be over but the sale price should still around).

I know; it doesn't seem right but I bought a new printer, with toner, for the cost of toner. What a tough spot for a printer manufacturer to be in. They are forced to sell printers at a loss in the hopes of getting your consumable business and the ink is higher than it should be. If any of them tried to raise the price of the printers (and lower the consumables), they'd be out of business in a week because consumers only notice the initial price and everyone else would undercut them in a heart-beat.

To accelerate my next toner purchase, the new printer came with a "Starter" cartridge, which is only 1/2 full. This seems unethical, but it was well advertised and I knew what I was getting into. Until recently, HP used to do this same thing but now I believe they ship full cartridges. But, me, the stupid consumer, willingly perpetuated the fraud. [Update: Since this article was written, I finally had to replace the original toner: I managed 11 months on the original half-size toner. The replacement toner was, as expected, $60.]

The new HL-2040 has a 250-paper-tray (compared to the 50-page-tray on the 1100). It prints at 20 pages per minute (compared to 8), at 600dpi (vs 300 dpi), and has 8MB of Ram (vs 1MB). The printer has both LPT and USB ports. Of course, all newer printers have these specs, but I have to admit this is a nice change.

The new printer is not without problems. First, it is noisier than the HP 1100. The sound isn't horrible but I would call it insistent. Secondly, it uses a *lot* more power. The Brother draws an amazing 450 watts while the HP 1100 drew 170 watts. Other, newer HP models draw 250 watts. At home the printer overloaded the power-strip it was originally plugged into, forcing a move to a new location on the same circuit. Even with this change, when ever I print, the lights flicker and rolling blackouts are seen across the valley. Ideally, the printer would be on a separate circuit from the other equipment in the room but this isn't feasible.

These two issues cloud my opinion of the printer. If I were doing this again, and had the luxury of waiting, I might opt for an HP 1020 printer (which is vaguely comparable to the Brother); but the going price is $180; I've heard it sometimes goes on sale for $120. In both cases, the price is considerably higher than what I paid, making the Brother hard to ignore.

Now, with nearly a year's use on the printer, I can say it performed adequately. I won't claim to be in love with it, mainly because of the power. Literally, the lights flicker in the house when it prints.

Related Keyliner Articles:
Getting more life out of a Brother Toner Cartridge
Brother HL-2170w Printer Review

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Vista's Mountain Wallpaper

Vista Mountain Wallpaper Scene: where, who, when. Plus, for fun, comments on how I edited the picture to suit my needs.

One of Vista's default Wallpapers is a mountain scene with a reflection in the lake (C:\Windows\Web\Wallpaper\img22.jpg). Steve Fu, a Microsoft Employee, took the original photograph in 2003 at 5:am, Enchantment Lakes Basin, Washington, with a tripod-mounted Nikon D100 and an 18-35mm lens. See SeattlePi.com

With complete disregard for the natural beauty and the original photographer's intent, I used PaintShopPro to edit the photo, removing foreground details, such as grass, rocks, etc., and then I added a broad expanse of water; reflecting other objects and trees in order to learn the photo-editor. My intention was to make a less-cluttered wallpaper.

Here is the original:


Below is the "new" version, designed for wide-aspect ratio screens (newer-styled monitors).

Of course, this violates one of my long-held principles about photography: Foreground detail is good and adds depth to a picture. But this version has a less cluttered foreground, which might make for a better wallpaper; icons don't get as lost.

To Download a full-sized version of this image:

You can download a full-sized image, suitable for your wallpaper, by using one of two methods:
To download from Keyliner's Public GDrive, click this link:

Keyliner Wallpaper Link (Recommended: Best image quality)
or follow these steps

1. Click Once on the image below, for a larger size
2. From the new View, "other-mouse-click," choose "Save Image As"
3. Once downloaded, locate the file in Windows Explorer
4. Select the File, Other-mouse-click; choose "Set as desktop Wallpaper"
5. Click the right-x to return to this article


You may also be interested in the following photograph I took in Idaho's Sawtooth mountains - Toxaway Falls. Click this article by Cropping Wallpaper Photographs for a discussion on how to best crop for wallpapers. You can download this same image from Keyliner's public GDrive: Keyliner Wallpaper Link



Other Articles you may be interested in:
Cameras and FotoSizer
Corel PaintShopPro X2
Vista Spiffs

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Corel PaintShopPro X2 Observations

A high-level review of Paint Shop Pro 12, followed by a technical discussion on how to best install and use some of the features.


On a friend's recommendation last year, I reluctantly tried Corel PaintShopPro XI (version 11), this after being a long-time Adobe Photopshop user. Now that I've used PaintShopPro (PSP), I have abandoned Adobe's product, partly on cost and partly because PSP is doing a good job.  For about $70, you will find a powerful photo-editor.

As much as I liked the previous version, PSP 11, it had several bugs. Things like tool-bar menu's not opening properly (especially the line-draw tool), or pop-up context menus not appearing at the cursor position. It also had problems building TIF files properly. In the end, all had simple work-arounds but they were irritating. Then, along comes version 12 ("X2").

2012.01 Update: 
Since this article was written, Corel released X3, and then later version X4.  All versions are similar.  The X4 version is now my recommended version.



Program Patches masquerading as New Versions

Version X2 (12) has fixed some, but not all of the issues; however, I am still recommending the newer version because it is clearly improved. In addition to my cosmetic bugs, the errata-sheet indicates they fixed about 70 other problems.

This, of course, brings to mind this observation: In year's past, Corel would have numerous maintenance releases with their existing products. But starting with older versions of WordPerfect and PSP 11, they essentially stopped maintaining older products and now only maintain the current version. If you are a version or two behind, be prepared to buy in order to fix bugs. I can understand their reasoning; it is hard to maintain two separate development staffs and testing environments, but this does make owning a program more difficult.


As-if to prove the point, PSP X2 has a new skin (colored background) but the program is nearly identical to the prior version. I am being somewhat cynical because most of the menus and toolbars operate exactly as before. There are new features, but these are really add-ons to the original product; the main program is essentially the same.  But, there is something to be said for a program that improves its base product without making a lot of changes for change's sake.

New Features:

There are new features including a promising multiple-exposure HDR blending tool (see this imageLiner.blogspot.com article), better black and white conversion and a nifty "express lab" which lets you rifle-through a new roll of pictures, making basic editing changes in a thumbnail-view. I especially like the cropping tool, which takes the guess-work out of selecting the correct ratio for a 4x6, 5x7, etc., print. This new version also supports most 35mm DSLR RAW modes, including Pentax.


The program also comes with a CD-based video tutorial by Lynda.com. This tutorial is fairly good, although some sections are a little windy and it takes the narrator too long to get to the point (the previous version of this tutorial seemed tighter). If you are not familiar with photo-editors, layers, or grouping, then you will find the tutorial helpful; it is certainly nicer than a help-file.

How I use the Program:

Although I use the photo-editor as intended, I mostly use it for technical illustrations for a C-sharp programming book that I'm writing. Interestingly, PSP has turned out to be a good tool for this type of work. For example, here is a technical illustration and a typical screen shot (Click to see full-sized resolution; click Back to return):



Here is a sample screen shot-illustration (screen artifacts are caused by the compression algorithm used by this blogging tool):



Final Conclusions:
This is a good, high-quality photo-editor, but is not for a novice user.  It also can be used for simple technical illustrations.  Although it was not intended as a technical drawing editor (see examples above), it is adequate, but do not confuse this program with a high-quality vector-drawing program.

New purchase price: apx $70, mail-order.
Upgrade Price: apx $40, direct.

When I purchased the upgrade from Corel.com, it also came with a free copy of WinDVD 9, Media-One (a movie-maker program), and a library of Special Effects filters written by a third-party. 

Technical Discussion:

The following are technical discussions on how to setup and use PSP. This is not part of the program's review.

Especially if you use Roaming Profiles or if multiple user accounts use the same computer, make these changes when installing PSP 12. This will keep your profile from being polluted with hundreds of megabytes of junk.

1. Using Windows Explorer, create these three directories:
- C:\Data\Prefs\PSP.
- C:\Temp\_Cache\PSP.
- C:\Temp\_Cache\PSP\Undo.

2. At Install, choose "Advanced".
3. Change the (user file location) from C:\Documents and Settings... to C:\Data\Prefs\PSP.

After restarting the PC and launching PSP, continue with these changes:

4. In File, Preferences
- Change the Cache directory to C:\Temp\_Cache\PSP.
- Change the Undo directory to C:\Temp\_Cache\PSP\Undo.
- Consider changing the Undo size to a smaller number, such as 50 steps and limiting the disk space.

5. If you do not need Color Management (and this has caused problems, where PSP 11 corrupts TIF files; not yet tested in version 12), consider the following:
- Under File, Color Management; un-Enable "Color management"
- Then, when saving a TIF (or possibly other formats like JPG), create an image, File-Save; Choose Options.
- Mark as "Uncompressed" and "do not store color-correction" with the file. Once this change is made, all future images inherit these settings.

Text On Images:

PSP has some difficulty making simple, readable (straight, clean) text on an image. If your text has outlines, fill-color, and other artistic enhancements, especially if the text is relatively large when compared to the image, it does a swell job. But if you want type-set-quality, plain black-text in a normal 11 or 12-point font, you will have to fiddle with the Text Toolbars (see illustrations, above for example text).

Here is how I set the Text toolbars:

See this article for complete details:  PSP Fuzzy Text Fix

1. Depending on the image, you may need to set the font-size to 4 or 5 points in order to get "normal-sized" text on the image. Try 11-points first; if too big, try 4-point. Typing a "4" in the font-size box takes some practice because the editor will try and shift the size to "48". Type the 4, then tab out of the field and click your mouse in the text-box editing window.

2. Set the "Stroke Width" to 0.00; this is the key.

3. Set the Forground/background colors backwards from what you'd expect: use White for the foreground (there is no stroke-width) and use Black for the background color (this is the fill-color).

4. For best results, if your point-size is 11 or 12 points, use anti-aliasing. If smaller, do not use anti-aliasing.

5. Stick with a simple Ariel font, if possible. If using Times, you will almost have to use anti-aliasing at all point-sizes.

Related Articles:
Windows 7 and Paint Shop Pro Not Working
Using PSP to Crop Images respecting Aspect Ratios
PSP Fuzzy Text Fix

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Mozilla Firefox Add-ons

Useful Add-ons for the Mozilla FireFox Browser. These add-ons make an already fabulous browser even better. IE users wish they could have these.





If you use Mozilla's Firefox, then I recommend installing these third-party add-ons. Addons include Advertising blockers, flash-blockers and site-previewers. These will really improve your browsing experience and can make websurfing faster and better.
  • AddBlock Plus
  • Flashblock
  • IEView
  • CoolPreviews

Add-ons (also called Extensions) do not ship with the Firefox, but with a couple of mouse-clicks they can be downloaded and installed. There are literally thousands of add-ons written for Firefox, but these are my particular favorites. Each of these add-ons are free, no strings, no registration.

AdBlock Plus

Sometimes the advertisements take more time to download than the site's actual content. Adblock simplifies your life by unobtrusively blocking many web-page ads and you will be amazed at when sites quit blaring harsh advertisements.

Once installed, many, if not most of the ads simply vanish from your browser and there is nothing else to do. But, Adblock can't catch every advertisement. If you happen to find a page with a really annoying ad, "other-mouse-click" the ad and choose "AdBlock this image". The image is instantly gone and you'll never have to download it again.

Blocking individual images is easy, but many commercial sites change the ad daily or hourly and you will have to block the image again when the name changes. Here is where Adblock shines. As you are blocking the image, backspace over the found-name and add a wild-card (asterisk) near the end of the image path. Now, no matter what image they put in the frame, it will be blocked. For example (click image for larger view, then Back to return):


Adblock's website has tutorials on how to get the most out of the program, but with just the information in this article, you will have accomplished most of what you need to know.

FlashBlock

Flashblock is similar to Adblock. This add-on blocks all Adobe Flash images embedded in a web page. Many of the most annoying "moving" advertisements are Flash and this stops them from even downloading. This means faster page-loads and less distractions. For example, here is where a Flash Ad normally lives on MSN.COM. FlashBlock marks the location with an arrow or an "f". To view the image, click on the arrow and the animation immediately plays.

When Flash is blocked, all Flash images are blocked. Content on video sharing sites, such as YouTube, are also blocked, but all you have to do is click the arrow to play. Alternately, grant exceptions by other-mouse-clicking the arrow choosing "Allow Flash" from the menu. For the most part, I've not granted any exceptions because it is so easy to click the arrow.


IE View

There are some websites that will not work with FireFox (because FireFox does not allow Active-X logic to run). Notably Microsoft's Update site and most online Banking sites. IE View allows you to "other-mouse-click" any page and choose "View in IE". From then on, Firefox automatically launches IE when you browse to this page and the cut-over is transparent. This is a feature that I seldom use, but it is handy.

CoolPreviews

Allows you to preview a link or image without leaving the current page or tab. To use, mouse over any link. A millisecond later, a small magnify-glass icon appears; hover the mouse on the icon; this takes a flick of the wrist. A new window with a small preview window appears.

Once the window opens, I recommend making these preference changes -- making the window appear with less of a delay:


Installing Firefox and Firefox Add-ons

If needed, download Firefox from www.Mozilla.com. The browser is a simple Windows program that does not mess with the underlying operating system. You will find the program is small and easy to install. Additionally, Firefox runs independently of IE; neither conflicts with the other. Once Firefox is installed, install the Add-ons:

Choose Tools, Add-ons,
click "Get Add-ons".
Click "Browse All Add-ons"

As you scroll through the list, look for the Recommended options or search by name. Installing an Add-on is a joy: Click the green Add-to-firefox button and you are done. Addons take about 5 seconds to install. Restart Firefox after all addons have been installed.

Other Articles you may be interested in:
Taming Browser Cookies
Stopping the most annoying Vista UAC Nags while staying secure
Vista Spiffs - For performance

Friday, May 23, 2008

Vista Spiffs 1

Simple things you can do to improve your Vista experience and performance.

The following are simple things you can do to improve Windows Vista. Most only take a few moments and although I've written about some of them before, they are worth repeating. Many of these ideas also work in XP. On a personal note, Vista has all-but been abandoned by Microsoft and the user community; consider upgrading to Windows 7. I realize it is expensive and time consuming to upgrade.

Contents:
  • Install/Confirm Vista SP1
  • SP1 Cleanup Tool
  • Missing Windows Explorer Menu Bar
  • Missing Start, RUN
  • Set Classic Start Menu
  • Speed up the Start Menu (Fading)
  • Explorer - Show Folder Options (show menus; don't hide extensions)
  • Adding MyComputer, Network Places to the desktop
  • Narrow Windows Border Thickness
  • Reduce Desktop Icon Sizes (especially for Netbooks)
  • Add Notepad to SendTo menu
  • Change Default Shutdown from Sleep to Power-Off
  • Speedup SATA drives
  • Turn off Superfetch
  • Cleanup Startup Programs
  • Turn off unneeded Services

Vista SP1: A Requirement
If you are running Microsoft Vista, and have not installed Vista Service Pack 1, do so now. SP1 rolls up about 500 different patches and many of these were only available to corporate users until now. You may be shocked at 500 different patches, but this number is not out of line with previous XP Service packs. The update fixes 75 IE security problems, but more importantly, there are over 50 sleep, hibernation and shutdown patches. These have improved my Vista experience and have helped both the laptop and desktop computers.

How to tell you have it: Start, Windows Explorer; on the folder-tree, scroll until you find "Computer". 'Other-mouse-click' Computer and read the Windows edition text in the center of the screen.

SP1 Cleanup Tool
Reclaim the Service Pack's un-install files by running the Vista SP1 Cleanup tool, which was installed with the Service Pack. This recovers disk space varying from 600MB to a Gig. Do the following:

1. Start, Run
"C:\Windows\System32\vsp1cln.exe".

Are you missing the Start, Run command? See "Start Menu and Mousing Around," below.


Windows Explorer Missing Menu Bar

If you miss the Windows Explorer "File, Edit" Menu bar, get it back with these steps:
1. Launch Windows Explorer.
2. Choose button-bar "Organize", Layout, then "MenuBar".



Start-Men
u and Mousing Around

Do you find yourself wandering aimlessly around in the Start Menu looking for a program you know was there the other day? Don't you find the new Start Menu vaguely confusing? If so, revert the Start Menu to the "Classic" version (illustrated on right) with these steps.

1. Click Start, Control Panel (or Settings), "TaskBar and Start Menu".
2. Click the top [Start Menu] tab.
3. Choose "Classic", then "Customize".

4. In Customize, choose the following options:
[x] Display Logoff.
[x] Display Run (which Enables Start, Run).
[x] Show small icons in Start Menu.
[ ] Uncheck personalized menus!

Other choices may be clicked or unclicked; leave them as you see fit, but the ones above are the most interesting, especially the Personalized menus. By disabling this feature, the icons stay in the same order on the Start Menu and do not re-shuffle and hide themselves based on use. Trust me: you will love these changes.


Other Menu Speedup Items:

1. For Vista:
Select Control Panel, "Performance Information and Tools".
In the left-menu, choose "
Adjust Visual Effects".

For Windows XP:
Other-mouse-click "MyComputer", Properties;
Click The "Advanced" tab. Click in the Performance Section, "Settings"


2. In the "Visual Effects" tab, choose "Custom":

[ ] Uncheck Animate controls and elements.
[ ] Uncheck Animate Windows when minimizing.
[ ] Uncheck Fade or slide menus into view.
[ ] Uncheck Slide open Combo Boxes.
[ ] Uncheck Smooth-scroll list boxes.

These will make the computer seem noticeably faster and they do not detract from other Vista beatifications, such as AeroGlass. I reserve special animosity for the smooth-scrolling list box option. Enabling this option makes all pull-down menus intolerably slow and I cackle gleefully when ever it is unchecked.


Explorer Folder Options

Show all files and all extension:

1. In Control Panel, Folder Options, [View] tab:
[x] Check Always Show Menus.
[ ] Uncheck Hide Extensions for known file types.

By unhiding File Extensions you can tell a SETUP.EXE from a SETUP.HLP or SETUP.HTML. It is beyond me why Microsoft would hide this important information as their default. This helps protect you from viruses and other malware.


Are You Missing MyComputer?


Are you missing the "(My)Computer" and "(My)Network" icons from the desktop? Get them back on the desktop. Mercifully, they have been renamed to "Computer" and "Network".

1. Select Control Panel, Personalization.
2. Choose left-menu "Change Desktop Icons".


Window Border Thickness

Change Vista's default window-border thickness from a child-like "4" to 1, by:

1. Right-click desktop, choose Personalize

2. Select "Windows Color and Appearance"
Choose the Aero Color Scheme (or Windows Vista Basic if you have an older computer)
Click "Open Classic Appearance Properties", "Advanced"

3. In the "Item" pull-down, select Border Padding
Recommend setting to "1"


Desktop Icon Sizes:

I've found, especially on netbooks, that the default icon sizes are too large when compared to the smaller screens. Only make these changes if you think your icons are too large; for most machines these steps should be skipped:

1. Other-mouse-click the desktop; choose "Personalize"

2. Choose Windows, "Color and Appearance"
(on XP, choose Desktop Properties, the "Appearance" tab).

3. Click the blue link: "Open classic appearance properties"

4. Click the "Advanced" button; choose Item: "Icon"
Change the size to "48" to "32"

5. Choose Item "Icon Spacing (Vertical)"
Change the size from "48" to "32"

6. For Windows XP only: Return to the previous screen, choose button "Effects"
Confirm [ ] Use Large Icons is unchecked

7. You must reboot to see the Vertical Spacing change.


SendTo Menu

Often I want to peek inside of files and I often need to view them in Notepad. To add Notepad.exe to the "SendTo" menu, do the following:

1. Start, Run:
%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Windows\SendTo


2. Once the folder opens, "other-mouse-click" in a blank area in the icon list and create a new shortcut.
3. Name the shortcut "Notepad". Use this command line: "notepad.exe".

To test the new shortcut, locate an ASCII text document on your C: drive (e.g. a ReadMe.txt file somewhere); other-mouse-click, select "SendTo", Notepad. This saves you the trouble of selecting "Open With."


Change the Default Shutdown from "Sleep" to "Shut Down"


When you click Start, Shutdown, the computer probably defaults to "Sleep". Follow these steps to change it to "Shut Down".

1. Windows Control Panel, Power Options

2. Choose each of the options, "High Performance," "Balanced", and "Power Save"

3. For each option, scroll down the list, locating "Power Buttons and Lid"

4. Change the "Start Menu Power Button option":
Change onBattery and Plugged in from "Sleep" to "Shutdown"
Apply the changes; move to the next set of options (e.g. Balanced)


Speed-up SATA Drives

If you have a newer computer, especially a laptop, speed up the SATA hard disks by

1. Other-mouse-click desktop icon (MyComputer).
2. Choose "Manage"; Choose Disk Management.
3. Locate your hard disk in the bottom-center list.
4. Other-mouse-click "Properties".
5. Click the [Policies] Tab.
6. Check [x] "Enable Write Cache".
7. If you have a battery UPS or laptop, check "Enable Advanced"


Turn off Superfetch

Windows Superfetch pre-loads programs into memory based on past usage. If for example, you always use IE or Firefox, Vista detects this and loads a copy of the program in a pre-fetch cache directory. Then, each time you boot, it pre-loads the program into memory for faster launching. In other words, the program loads even if you have no intention on using it.

There is some admittedly interesting technology at play here. Vista monitors when you load programs and can prefetch them at different times of the day, but as you can imagine, pre-loading adds a lot of time to your computer's startup time.

I suspect that most computers running Vista have adequate CPU, disk and memory and are modern enough to load the programs from scratch without much effort. Turning off Prefetch will take longer to load programs, but it will save memory and startup-time. You may want to experiment with this setting and rather than relying on benchmarks, go by gut-feel; does the computer boot faster? Do the applications load in a reasonable time?

To disable Prefetch:
1. Start, Run, Services.msc.
2. Locate services "Superfetch".
3. Other-mouse-click and "Stop" the service.
4. In the service's Properties, set the Startup Type to "Disabled".


Startup Programs:

As you install programs, most vendors sneak little utilities into two different startup areas. Many of these programs are fluff and are not needed. Periodically, I peruse these to see if there are programs that can be weeded-out. Usually there are.

See this article for a more complete description on cleaning up Start Menu items.

In the Startup Group (C:\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup), consider unchecking these programs:

* QuickTime (it loads just fine without this running in the background).
* Billminder (Quicken pay-your-bill reminder service, which you probably don't use).
* Quicken Startup (We look at our checkbook twice a month; no sense pre-loading daily).

Then, by running the Microsoft "MSConfig" utility, you can disable other sneakily-installed programs. To disable startup programs, do the following:

1. Start, Run, "msconfig".
2. Click the Startup Tab.
3. Uncheck various programs (see below).

For example, I've disabled these programs (which you may or may not have), but after viewing this list, this may give you an idea on what you can disable:

* Adobe Acrobat (loads fine without being in the startup).
* Corel File Shell Monitor (watches for changed files and pre-loads images).
* Corel Photo Downloader (automatically connects to digital cameras; I connect manually).
* Nvidia Media Center Library.
* Nvidia Driver Helper Service.
* Nvidia Hotkey Service.
* Java.
* WebCam Managers.
* C-Major Audio (Sigmatel) System Tray icon

Programs you should not disable:
+ Windows Defender and Virus programs.
+ Pointing and Mouse Devices.
+ Display Driver (However, Nvidia installs lots of other stuff).
+ Most sound-card programs.

Click image for larger view; "Back" to return


Most vendor programs (Acrobat, Quicken Checkbook, etc.) load just fine without being in the startup areas. But do use caution. If you are unsure about turning off a program, let it be. Searching the web is a good resource for helping you decide if you should shut down a program or not.

*A more complete article on cleaning up Start Menu items can be found here.


MSConfig SERVICE Tab
Consider making these changes (see illustration above):

Turn off ReadyBoost if you don't use USB Drives to expand physical memory (it is horribly slow).

Turn off the FAX service, if you do not have a Fax Modem.

Turn off Windows backup (if you have another backup solution)

Turn off Tablet PC Input Service (if you are not using Tablet PCs)

Once you apply the changes, MSConfig will bug you each time you boot. This gives you a chance to re-enable a stopped-program. If you shut-down a program that you wished you hadn't, simply re-check the box; save your changes, and reboot to see the results. At some point, say a week or so later, you can dismiss this box by checking the "don't show this message again."


Related Articles:
Cleaning up Startup Programs
Optimizing the Windows Paging/Swap File
Taming Browser Cookies
Disk Cleanup Steps (Prior to backing up)
Stopping Vista's Most Annoying UAC Nag
Vista's 'Unidentified Network Problem -- How to fix

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Microsoft Wireless Mouse 7000

Product review of the Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 7000 - a then-recommended product, but better mice are now available. This is the original product review with new notes added on 2010.12.

Contents:

In Summary:

The $30 Microsoft Wireless Laser Mouse 7000 is solidly-built and comfortable, and like most Microsoft mice, it feels as if it were made with better materials than other brands. It has an understated design and works perfectly.

Since this article was written, Microsoft has released the Mobile Mouse 4000 and the smaller 3500 -- both are 2.4Ghz and both use the Nano transmitter, which is what you really want. I recently purchased a competitor; see this article: GearHead Wireless Nano Mouse but this mouse died and proved worthless. I am now using a Microsoft Mouse 4000.


Features:
  • Medium-sized Mouse; comfortable
  • Moderately heavy; feels substantial
  • thumb-drive-sized USB transmitter
  • 2.4Ghz
  • Transmitter sees past obstructions
  • 4-way Scroll-wheel
  • Battery-life indicator; 1 AA
  • 1000dpi sensitivity (40-points per mm!)
  • 3x more sensitive than a standard optical mouse


In the photo you can see the USB-transmitter "docks" with the bottom of the mouse when not in use and this also turns off the mouse. The mouse is rated for 4 to 6 months from a single AA battery. My mouse, with mid to light use, is on its 14th month with the original battery.

I have had several people write, complaining about Microsoft's 3000-series wireless mouse, which skips and misbehaves if the transmitter is on the wrong side of the laptop. (The 3000-series mice transmit at 27mhz and were still actively sold by Microsoft at the time.)

This newer 7000-series mouse transmits at 2.4Ghz and does not have these problems. On multiple laptops the mouse has worked flawlessly and it even works on the back side of a desktop computer stashed behind a desk.

The wireless mouse allowed me to perch the laptop on a laptop-stand and I can now shove the machine into the back corner of the desk. Since the mouse works from anywhere in the room, the laptop has effectively turned into a large MP3 music player.


Unexpected Magnifier Buttons

When buying mice, I have always looked for two-button mice, but these are sometimes hard to find. Now, most mice now have 4 to 6 buttons and they are often assigned to features such as a browser-back button and the dreaded "magnifier."

The first two months I owned a Microsoft Mouse 7000, the magnifier kept turning on and I had no idea why -- I didn't even realize the mouse had side-buttons because they were very small and subtly placed in the trim. Once I realized this, I started looking at the mouse drivers -- but the mouse originally shipped with XP drivers and there were no settings for the side button, making this problem devilishly-hard to find.

Drivers

In the Windows Control Panel, confirm you are running the Microsoft "Intellipoint" mouse drivers. If not, and assuming you are using a Microsoft mouse, go to Microsoft.com and download the driver.

Look here to see "Microsoft Intellipoint"


Disabling the Magnifier:

See the Windows Control Panel, Mouse.
Set the "Connected Device" to the proper mouse.
Set both side-buttons to "No action".

Humorously, I have since met several people with this same problem. Everyone laughs when the realize the solution.

Because the extra buttons are not universal or standardized, I find them annoying and inconsistent when used on other people's computers. For these reasons, I disable the non-standard buttons.

Control Panel: Ease of Access Center

There is another possibility for the Magnifier bug, albeit, unlikely. In the Windows 7 Control Panel, "Ease of Access Center", is also a setting that turns on the Magnifier.

1. Open Windows Control Panel, "Ease of Access Center"
2. In "Make the computer easier to see"
Uncheck [ ] Turn on Magnifier

More Recent Mice:

Since this purchase, nearly 2 years ago, Logitech and Microsoft have released new mice with small "Nano" USB transmitters. Although Microsoft's 7000 transmitter is relatively small, about 1.25 inches long, you really want the newer "Nano" transmitters which are small enough to leave permanently plugged into the computer. Since this review was written, I purchased a similar GearHead mouse; see this review and a later, a Microsoft 4000-series mouse.


Conclusion:

A nice product at a reasonable price ($30). I am pleased with the purchase. As of 2010.07, newer mice are available -- the 4000, and 2500 series; each with 2.4ghz and nano transmitters. Consider Logitec or Microsoft 4000 mouse if you are using a laptop.

Related Articles
Keyliner Review - Logitech T630 Ultrathin Mouse

Related Links:
Microsoft Product Drivers
Windows 7 x64 Mouse Drivers
GearHead Wireless Nano Mouse (No longer recommended)

Cameras and Fotosizer

Originally published as "Random Thoughts: Cameras and Fotosizer", the Idaho PC User's Group 08.02

As many of you know, I finally bought a new Digital SLR to replace my 15-year-old 35mm film camera. There was nothing wrong with the old camera except for the film. Over the years I've become very stingy when taking pictures; often only taking a frame or two in order to save money. Of course, that lead to a roll of film sitting in the camera for a month or two. As I've watched all my digital friends, they blow off pictures like they were movie cameras. I wanted to be part of the "in-crowd."

The new camera is a Pentax K10D, which is considered an advanced amateur camera, just shy of professional-grade. I'm happy with this category because it perfectly describes my needs and abilities.

Old Lenses, New Camera

The real reason I bought this particular model was the compatibility with my extensive collection of existing lenses. But this proved to be a white-lie not adequately explained in the literature or by the sales staff. Giving Pentax credit, all of their lenses, from the most ancient to the current, fit on any of their cameras. But, unbeknownst to all the salesmen, Pentax has "old" lenses and they have "old-old" lenses. I have the latter, where all of my lenses are 25 years old (they are considerably older than the original camera). They fit on the new body but the metering system can't make heads or tails out of the aperture. Since I don't use hand-held meters, this effectively retired the lenses.

Although I bought the digital camera for Landscape work, I've not had the chance to use it as such; instead, I've been taking sports photos of my daughter. Sports photography is not something that I'm particularly good at and I lack the proper lenses and flash; this has made the photos somewhat disappointing. But, it is neat to be able to take as many pictures as I want without concern. I am improving.

This caused another problem. I bought the new camera with a standard Zoom lens that replaced 5 of my fixed-length lenses. My intent was to buy an additional wide-angle lens for the serious landscape work. With this in mind, I got a new, smaller camera bag - one that could hold the camera, the extra lens, and some paraphernalia. The trouble is last week I borrowed a friend's long sports/action lens and quite unexpectedly had a lot of fun. This now means I'm inclined to buy two additional lenses; a long and a wide -- along with another new camera bag...

All this lead up to a sad day last week when I took the old PZ-1 film camera and all of its lenses, and put them in deep storage, probably never to be used again. Since then I have learned digital is no panacea; I now spend more time editing and sorting photographs than I ever did with film. And, there are a lot more photographs to deal with. This has been surprisingly time-consuming.

More Photos; More Editing:

The new camera generates 2 to 4MB photographs, which are too large to share with most people. With a couple of hundred pictures of that size, you are talking some serious disk space. Knowing that 95% of the photographs will never be printed, there is no reason to keep them at this resolution. But there is an old adage in digital photography: "It is easy to remove pixels, it is really hard to put them back." For that reason, I always shoot at the highest resolution and pare them down later.


FotoSizer: A Great Program

As I'm sorting photographs, those pictures that are particularly interesting are copied to a "high-resolution" folder and the remaining snapshots stay where they are. Then, using a nifty freeware program called "Fotosizer" (www.fotosizer.com), I can batch-convert all of the snapshots to any resolution I'd like.

In two minutes you can download, install and use this program. This is slick. If you like it, they ask for a ten-dollar paypal donation. A bargain.

See this article: How to use Fotosizer

I had to laugh when I converted one batch of files, and then later decided to print a few of them. The results looked like crap. Knowing the camera was flawless, I cursed the printer. It turns out I was a little aggressive with Fotosizer. Each of the photographs were compressed from 4MB to 30K. What would you expect?


2011 Update:  Since this article was written, I have since upgraded to a Nikon D5100.  See this blog for details:  imageLiner.blogspot.com

Related Articles:
How to use fotosizer
Cropping Photos for Wallpaper
Vista's Mountain Wallpaper
Corel PaintShop Pro (review)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More on the Dell XPS M1530

More comments about the Dell XPS M1530, including a fixed keyboard bow and a warranty-repair on the fingerprint reader. See the original review at Review: XPS-m1530

As I reported last time, my new laptop was having problems with the "biometric authentication", otherwise known as a "Fingerprint Reader." With this, you can swipe your finger and have it automatically log you in, replacing the need for a boot-up password and it also works in some applications and websites.

At first I discounted it as a frilly-device, but truth-be-told, I came to like it and the more it malfunctioned the more I wanted it to work. The fingerprint reader mysteriously quit working on the day I changed the Windows login password and everyone, including me, agreed this was a software problem. Since a lot of money died buying this machine, it became a matter of principle: it was time to call Dell.

Dell Chat with India

I started a "Chat" session in Dell-India. I've used other vendor's chat sites before and if you are a good typist, it is often more efficient and faster than talking to someone on the phone. Plus, because it is transcript, you do not have to repeat everything you typed earlier when the case moves to second and third-level support, as my calls often do.

Working with an Indian call-center can be a strange experience; you have to be careful about slang and other idioms and sometimes they write a perfectly readable sentence that is vaguely off-kilter ("Hi, my name is Valendadk 798335. Do not worry, I will fix your problem"). Naturally, my problem was unsolvable and I am sad to report 4 hours later I was still on the Chat session.

Ultimately, they started asking the question I thought they would ask after the first 20 minutes. "Do you have a current backup" because we want you to restore your software to factory-OEM settings. For once I had the pleasure of saying I had already done that a week earlier and was unwilling to do it again (last month I trashed the entire machine while testing software and had to rebuild the disk). I was moved to second-level support. After a lot more futzing around and a move to third-level, everyone gave up and we agreed to end the call without a resolution.

Then they asked the fateful question: "Is there anything else we can help you with?" Yes there was: "Why does the keyboard have an ever-so-slight bow in the middle?" The hump was probably caused by a wire or something underneath and I was worried the keys would scratch the screen when the lid was closed. The tone of the Chat session immediately changed. Within a few minutes, they were scheduling a repair person who would replace the keyboard and "palm-rest assembly." The palm-rest-assembly contains a new fingerprint reader.

I protested. Why do this when it was clearly a software problem and the hump was not really causing an obvious problem? To my surprise, they more-or-less insisted, and a few days later, a Dell man came with the new parts.

Dell Onsite Service

Dell contracts their service and repair with third-party companies and my experience was good. Watching the repair man dissect the laptop was interesting. He started by putting two sheets of paper on the desk. By hand, he had drawn a series of circles, labeled "keyboard", "Screen Hinge", "backplane", "hard disk" and others. Without exaggerating, he must have removed 30 different screws, pulled a dozen wires, connectors, metal brackets and other do-dads. Each was placed in their respective circle. This is a very smart man who has done this before.


As he worked, he asked, "why am I even doing this when it looks like a software problem?" I shrugged, knowing he had read the transcript. He went on to say that this is one of the more complicated laptops to repair because everything is packed in tight, but you could tell a lot of thought went into the design. There are horizontal cooling fans, air-ducts and other internal features that spoke of a well-designed machine. There was even a slick heat-pipe that snaked its way through the motherboard, passing over 4 different chips.

Keyboard Hump

It took about an hour to repair the computer. The "hump" was gone and the fingerprint reader works perfectly, never failing. Replacing the hardware was an unexpected solution to the problem. While the laptop was being repaired, I did not have the chance to ask about the keyboard hump. But later research revealed the keyboard hump is caused by a mis-installed screw. Photo illustration, thanks to "Tux1530":


Although the Chat session was too long, they were always professional and to their credit, they worked hard on the problem. But I'd bet India was cursing my name when the ticket was closed. In an attempt to repair my world-wide image, I sent a note back to Dell, thanking them for the good service, both on the Chat and on the onsite visit.

A Year Later

Even after a year, the laptop still appears professional and stylish. It still turns heads when people see it; the thinness, the white-outside cover and stainless interior all contribute to an attractive and functional machine.

Originally, when ordered, Dell offered four colors: Black, Red, White and Dark Blue. The Red (which is a charity-fund raiser) comes with numerous other features and is considerably more expensive. White is no longer offered and I guess that makes mine a collector's edition.

Since buying the machine, I have also purchased a traveling power supply (see link below) and I recommend doing this for any machine that moves often.

Compared to 17" Laptops

The XPS 1530 has a 15.4" wide-aspect screen that comes in several resolutions. I chose the 1440 x900 pixel version and it was a good decision. The controversy over the glossy screen is gone and all of my friends and coworkers agree this was the right decision (original review: Dell XPS M1530).

However, since then, newer 17" laptops are on the market and these have huge, beautiful screens. When making a decision between the 15" and 17" laptop, the difference is in portability and weight. If you need a desktop replacement, consider the 17" models. But if you have to lug it through airports, give this careful thought.

Related Articles:
Initial Review: XPS M1530
More on the Dell XPS M1530
XPS M1530 Replacement Battery
Laptop Battery Care and Feeding
Dell's Slim Power Adapter
Review: Maxtor Mini External USB Drive
Review: Microsoft Wireless Mouse 7000

Windows 7 on the XPS M1530 - Initial Look
Windows 7 64-bit XPS M1530 Drivers


Top photo credit: Tom Baker (tbtech.info)