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It’s safe to say that among the critical software elements for any computer, Microsoft Office, Windows Updates and an antivirus/antimalware applications are the bare minimum for most people. However, if you’re looking to squeeze out further productivity, we have 12 applications that can help you get things done more quickly whether you’re a student, working professional or a hardcore gamer!
1.) Gadwin Print Screen – This neat little program allows you to print-screen shot and capture the activity happening on your system if you’re trying to document tech support issues, making a how-to guide/presentation and need illustrative pictures or show other co-workers what you’re looking at for comparison purposes. It has a host of features such as image capture format, configurable shortcut buttons, destination and capture such as whole screen, currently active screen or selective rectangular area.
2.) Log Me In Hamachi – Hamachi is great if you want to have a secure connection between your notebook and home or office network. It creates a VPN tunnel which is encrypted so all your network traffic is safe from prying eyes which comes in handy for public Wi-Fi networks.
3.) Teamviewer – Offered in both commercial and free personal-use flavors, this remote desktop application enables you to connect to your home or office computer and access your files like you’re actually in front of that computer. It works great at transferring files, helping clients or family members with tech support issues and for managing your home/office IT network from a mobile location.
4.) PDF995 Printer – Along with the PDF995 printer driver, this awesome piece of software functions as a virtual printer and allows you to physically print any document or web page as the output is a PDF file on your desktop. Saving a web page via CTRL-S or SAVE AS in HTML is hardly practical and this program does an excellent job of documenting important pages like online academic resource database articles, newspaper articles, confirmation pages and reduces the need to have 50+ browser tabs running and eating up system resources.
5.) Alcohol 120% – CDs and DVDs are so 2004. This advanced application can rip and save your optical discs as a simple image file on your computer. Instead of having to deal with the possibility of scratched and/or unreadable CDs/DVDs, Alcohol 120% functions as a virtual optical drive on My Computer. If you want to load an image, you click “Mount Ghost Recon.iso” and Windows will load the game image file as if you’re putting the CD in the actual drive.
6.) VLC Media Player – With no shortage of media players in existence, VLC proved itself to be robust and very useful when it comes to reading a wide variety of formats. Whether it’s a divx file or DVD, VLC can play it back without additional installation such as video codecs.
7.) CPU-Z – This awesome application is geared more towards gamers and computer users looking to identify and monitor their computer’s configuration. For example, it can not only identify the computer’s CPU, but will also show its current speed, FSB, clock multiplier, RAM amount and which memory bank holds what stick.
8.) WinRAR – WinRAR enables file compression and decompression, works quickly and is perfect for archiving or trying to make files smaller for quicker file transfer. It supports a wide variety of formats including traditional ZIP and even has a password encryption feature so unauthorized parties cannot extract & uncompress your important RAR files.
9.) True Crypt 7.0a – While it is free, this open-source encryption tool is worth more than its weight in gold considering its wealth of features. Its most impressive feature allows you to encrypt flash drives and your own hard drive(s) which reduce the chance of any unauthorized parties from accessing your personal or company confidential data.
10.) Download Accelerator Plus – It comes in free and premium versions but I’ve found the free version to be fast enough for being free. Downloads like drivers, patches and other large files are quick for this program as it searches for the best connection and availability of download mirror sites.
11.) Evernote – While Windows 7 does come with notepad and stickypad built in, Evernote offers advanced note-taking features that ca help you remember and finish that paper or report just in time!
12.) Handbrake – Need some mobile entertainment on the go? Handbrake allows you to rip DVD movies in MPEG format to your laptop and is perfect for long airline flights, car rides or long downtime at the airport.
Whenever you purchase a new branded desktop or laptop, meaning Dell, HP, Gateway, etc… you usually get Windows 7, but you also get a ton of “bloatware” as well. Bloatware is basically just the extras that the computer manufacturer decides to throw in with Windows 7. Programs such as Norton antivirus, Roxio CD creator, and endless other trial products are usually included, but not usually wanted.
When you go to do a fresh install of Windows, using the backup discs that came with your PC, you usually have no option but to reinstall the bloatware as well. This is mainly a marketing partnership that software companies have with PC manufacturers, forcing you towards their products. However, there is a very simple way around this, rather than just uninstalling all of the extra programs that you do not want.
Step 1: Obtain a Microsoft Windows 7 Disc
This of course, must be a retail copy of Windows 7, manufactured directly by Microsoft. These copies of Windows 7 include only the operating system, with no unwanted extras. Chances are that you are not going to go out and buy a retail copy of Windows 7, for obvious reasons.
Luckily, there are a couple of other options that you can use. The easiest way to obtain a retail copy of Windows 7 is to simply borrow a disc from a friend. If you are a student, often times your college will be able to provide you with an OEM backup disc free of charge.
If neither of these options are suitable for you, just head down to a local PC specialty shop. They are usually more than happy to burn you a backup disc for a very small fee. My local shop sold me a backup disc for $10.00.
Most Windows 7 discs contain all versions of Windows 7, meaning Home Premium, Professional, etc… But you do need to make sure that you can install the same version of Windows with the retail disc, that originally came with your computer. For example, if your laptop came with Windows 7 Home Premium, you will need to install Windows 7 Home Premium.
Step 2: Get Drivers
Before you install Windows, you will want to get the drivers for your particular PC. Head on over to your PC manufacturer’s website and download all of the drivers for your PC. After you have done that, transfer the drivers to a USB flash drive or external hard drive, or burn them to a disc.
Step 3: Install Windows
With your newly obtained backup copy of Windows 7 in hand, go ahead and start the reinstallation process. Insert the disc into the PC’s CD/DVD rom drive and reboot your computer. Of course, backup any files to external hard drive that you want to keep first. Once the PC starts loading back up, enter the BIOS and boot from CD.
Once the Windows installation screen appears, it’s all easy coasting from there. Follow the on-screen instructions. Once you reach the setup screen that features Drive Options, go ahead and delete any old partitions, and setup your new drive to suit your preferences. Let Windows fully install.
Step 4: Install Drivers
Many features on your PC will be unusable, such as the wireless card and specialty keyboard buttons. For these, you will need to install drivers. As mentioned above, that manufacturer backup disc that came with your PC has drivers included, but also a bunch of other stuff that you don’t want.
Copy the drivers that you downloaded earlier from your USB flash drive, external hard drive, or disc to the PC. Proceed to install them.
Step 5: Activate
Once Windows is installed on your PC, it’s time to activate it. Here comes the awesome part. The activation code that is on a sticker on your PC case, WILL work with retail copies of Windows 7. So go ahead and open the Start Menu, right-click on Computer, choose Properties, and get Windows activated.
Step 6: Restore Files
If you had any files that you backed up to external hard drive, go ahead and reinstall them onto your new copy of Windows.
Finding a retail copy of Windows 7 seems like a lot of work, but it is worth it if you don’t want to go through the process of uninstalling all of those unwanted programs. Most manufacturer discs can take up to 3x longer to install Windows, just because they install all of the other programs as well.
An OEM retail copy of Windows will install quickly and easily, and even with manual driver install time, it should be faster than using a manufacturers disc. This method of installing Windows is even more useful for people who frequently reinstall their operating system.
Not that many years ago, the idea of having more than one computer in the home seemed absurd. But now, with much of our daily life dependant on them, it’s commonplace for households to have multiple computers. One day you wake up, and there’s a computer for each member of the family, the one in the basement stores old graphics and MP3 files, and then Dad brings home his laptop from work… Suddenly there are seven computers in the house, but only one printer and one Internet connection – how do you keep everybody happy and productive?
Answer: Set up a network!
A network is a group of computer components connected together with a hub, switch, or router, giving the users the ability to share resources and data. These resources (most importantly Internet connectivity and printing) are integral parts of computer use today. Networking them together just makes sense. The difference between the three is that a router will take communications from a computer or multiple computers, and route the data through a gateway to or from the internet via a broadband connection. A hub or switch only handles local network traffic like two computers on a LAN (Local Area Network) communicating with each other.
Gone are the days when users swap data on floppy discs. In fact, many of today’s computers no longer include a floppy disc drive! But even if files don’t need to be shared, a home network will pay for itself quickly by sharing one Internet connection, and buying one common printer instead of one for every computer user (or carting the printer around the house, depending on who needs it).
For the SOHO (Small Office / Home Office) crowd, there are two different types of networks; each serves a purpose, and each has its pros and cons.
- Hard-wired (also called Ethernet)
- Wireless (also called WiFi)
Ethernet is the industry standard for, wired networks. Virtually every computer of the past decade has an integrated Ethernet port (or the ability to accept a third-party card).
- Easy to configure
- Requires each computer to be physically connected to the router
- Hiding the wires is difficult, if not impossible
- Limited computer portability
Ethernet networks are generally plug-and-play, hard-wiring each computer and printer to a hub. Ethernet networks are best used in a one- or two-room situation, where wires can easily be hidden behind furniture, or the underside of worktables.
But wired networks have some limitations. For starters, most houses aren’t equipped to easily conceal wires. Aesthetics come into play here, and the difficulty of keeping the home neat and free of clutter is the biggest drawback of a wired network. For example, if the kids have a computer upstairs, one in the basement, and the cable modem is in the kitchen, it means physically running a wire between these devices, which isn’t practical.
One solution is to hire a cabling pro to run the wiring through the walls and install wall jacks, but that generally isn’t cheap. Since most people are reluctant to drill through walls, a kinder, gentler solution is needed when computers are spread throughout the house. That alternative would be a wireless network (aka WiFi).
Wireless Networking, the Kinder Gentler Solution
WiFi is short for Wireless Fidelity and applies to devices that comply with the 802.11 family of standards – it is commonly interchangeable with the term “wireless network”.
WiFi works on the same principle as wired networks, only without the wires (hence the clever name!). Wireless networks have some pretty cool perks including the ability to sit on the deck on nice days with a laptop, or keeping an eye on the kids while working downstairs. They also establish an environment free of clutter and unsightly wires. Like Ethernet, virtually every computer today has built-in wireless, or the ability to accept a wireless card.
- Neat and clean
- Flexibility around the house
- Slower than Ethernet
- Not always intuitive to configure
- More expensive
To ensure privacy, no matter which brand of router that is used, it is a good policy to enable the wireless security feature. About 50% of wireless residential networks are set up without a password. Don’t believe it? Venture to a densely populated residential area with a laptop, and see how many networks can be accessed that have not been secured.
Wireless Network Disadvantages
Wireless networks do have a few drawbacks. They are less intuitive to configure, slower than their hard-wired counterparts, and large houses often have problems with physical items diminishing the signal. Plaster walls, large appliances and chimneys tend to be the main culprits, but there are work-arounds for these obstacles. Wireless networks also have security issues, which will be covered in greater detail in the second part of this series on wireless networks.
Be aware that there are additional home networking options available, including routers that can network through a home’s existing electrical wiring. These are up-and-coming products, and though early reviews have been favorable, they haven’t hit the mainstream yet and remain cutting-edge solutions for now.
Wireless networks have come a along way and when set up properly, they can enhance one’s computing experience. The next tip will cover the specifics of setting up a wireless network at home, how to maximize signal strength and range, and the importance of password-protecting a network.
This primarily applies to problems you might have with your computer at home but it can happen anywhere. While working on your computer did you ever get an alert message and you had no idea what it meant? You know, something that looks like this:
I can’t tell you what an error messages like this means but I can tell you how to find out:
- When an alert box pops up with an error message in it take note of what it says. If it doesn’t make sense to you write down exactly what it says (or highlight the text and copy it if you can)
- Open up the internet and go to a search engine (google, yahoo, ask). Type (or paste) the error message into the search engine and click “search”
- Look at the responses carefully. Chances are you are not the first person who has ever seen this message before. Some of the people who have seen that error before have actually made entire web pages up about their experience. Some of these websites might tell you how to fix the problem. In many cases the company that created the software will create a website that offers free downloads that you can use to repair the error. Check out these sites for a solution to your problem.