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1.    Windows Vista – An Overview

After a gap of nearly 5 years, Microsoft released the latest version of Windows which is named as Vista. With a name change from Longhorn to Vista, the stable version of Windows is expected to be released during November 2006. The beta version of this software is already available as a free download. If you have a lot of patience or a very high speed internet connection then you can download Vista which is nearly 2.5 GB in size.

Microsoft promises that Vista will have plenty of new features which includes updated graphical user interface (GUI), Windows DVD Maker – a new creation tool for multimedia – and totally revamped audio, print and networking sub-systems. Vista will make use of peer-to-peer technology to make file sharing between networked computers easier. With the inclusion of Virtual PC in Vista, Microsoft claims that running previous versions of Windows simultaneously on the same machine will not be a problem.

The developers can make use of the Net Framework version 3.0 introduced in Vista. This version is claimed to be easier to work with than the traditional Windows API.

The most common criticism of Windows XP is its unstable security and its inability to protect the system from buffer overflows, viruses and malware. The stated goal of Vista is to improve the security considerably and make the system protected from the invasion of malwares and virus threats.

Vista comes with improved performance of Windows Shell, easier and faster search functions, a sidebar resembling Apple’s Spotlight, desktop gadgets for applets, the latest version of Internet Explorer – the controversial web browser of Microsoft -, Windows Media Player 11, specialized User Account Control, built in Firewall to control and monitor outgoing and incoming traffic, Windows Defender, a Windows version of anti-spyware and Windows mail which will replace the existing Outlook Express.

Microsoft claims Vista will help in improving the performance of the PC in certain key areas which includes starting up, response to user actions, and waking up. The start up is going to be very quick and while background processing of scripts and applications are executed, the other desired tasks can be performed by the users.

The new sleep state provision in Vista has combined features for standby mode, data protection and low power usage during hibernation.

If you want to try Vista on your desktop computer then your system should have a processor which should be at least 800MHZ speed, 512 MB RAM and have the latest version of any good graphic card capable of executing DirectX version 9 or above. This is only a minimum requirement. For optimum results a better processor – above 1.2GHZ is needed.

2.    Windows Task Manager in English

You use Ctrl+Alt+Del to see what's running on your PC, to close crashed programs and processes, and to check performance. You probably avoid a few processes whose names mean nothing to you, but they're essential to Windows. svchost.exe sure likes to appear all the time and multiple times at that. What's taskmgr.exe? Oh yeah, it's the window you're looking at right now. ctfmon? Is he related to Pokemon? navapsvc.exe? Navy? Napa Valley? Navel? NOTA (none of the above).

This is not a comprehensive list as that would take days. It has the standard processes as well as process names from popular applications. If you want to know about a process, the best place to go is... ProcessLibrary.com. Just like adware and spyware, there are bad processes that come to life thanks to the bad guys like Trojans and viruses. The site has a list of the top five security threats, so watch out for those processes.

acrotray.exe - Acrobat Assistant that is used when printing documents to a PDF. The process should not be removed while converting documents to PDF.

ADService.exe - Active Disk Service is a component of the Iomega zip drive.

AppServices.exe - Also for the Iomega zip drive.

ccEvtMrg.exe - Associated with Symantec's Internet Security Suite. Keep it and protect your PC.

ccSetMgr.exe - Also associated with Symantec's Internet Security Suite. Keep it and protect your PC.

csrss.exe - System process that is the main executable for the Microsoft Client / Server Runtim Server Subsystem. It should not be shut down.

ctfmon.exe - non-essential system process. If you're using only English as the language, then it is not needed. However, it's recommended to leave it alone.

explorer.exe - This must always be running in the background. It's a user interface process that runs the windows graphical shell for the desktop, task bar, and Start menu.

iexplore.exe - Internet Explorer browser. But why are you using it unless it's for a site that doesn't work in any other browser? Use Firefox instead.

lsass.exe - Local Security Authority Service is a Windows security-related system process for handling local security and login policies.

Navapsvc.exe, nvsrvc32.exe, and navapw32.exe - These are Symantec's North AnvtiVirus processes. They or whatever virus program you use should run all the time.

realsched.exe - RealNetworks Scheduler is not an essential process. It checks for updates for RealNetworks products. It can be safely disabled.

rundll32.exe - A system process that executes DLLs and loads their libraries.

savscan.exe - Nortons AntiVirus process. Keep it.

services.exe - An essential process that manages the starting and stopping of services including the those in boot up and shut down. Do not terminate it.

smss.exe - Session Manager SubSystem is a system process that is a central part of the Windows operating system. If you try to kill it, it will be difficult... hence, the importance of leaving it be.

spoolsv.exe - Microsoft printer spooler service handles local printer processes. It's a system file.

svchost.exe x 6 - You may have more than six appearances of this process or less. It's there multiple times to handle processes executed from DLLs. Leave it there.

System - This is a file that stores information related to local hardware settings in the registry under 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE'. Kill it and kiss your PC's stability bye bye.

System Idele Process - calculates the amount of CPU currently in use by applications. This won't go away no matter how hard you try. Don't try it, OK?

taskmgr.exe - Appears when you press Ctrl+Alt+Del.

wdfmgr.exe - Windows Driver Foundation Manager is part of Windows media player 10 and newer. Better not to stop the process.

winlogon.exe - Handles the login and logout processes. It's essential.

winword.exe - The great Carnac says, "You're running Microsoft Word."

Don't panic if you see something you have on the "bad guy" list. svchost.exe is important, but some are good guys and some are bad guys. Do your research before deleting anything. For instance, I have admin.exe, which has been reported as a bad guy. However, it is the admin process for one of my programs. When I closed the program, admin.exe also went away.

3. Windows Registry - Problem Solving

With so many computer users online in the current day and age, it is inevitable that PC problems will be encountered by mostof them from time to time.

A lot of these problems are easily avoided, but that's easy to say for someone with technical knowledge and experience, and not so easy for a huge number of users who just want their machines to run as reliably and hassle free as possible.

A great number of people do not even know where to begin when it comes to keeping their PC running as sweetly as the day it was first plugged in, and over a period of time they start  to notice the length of time it takes to boot up in the mornings, and that it seems reluctant to carry out tasks that once upon a time it simply sailed through. By the time they start to notice this degradation in performance, the workings of their machine have beome horribly clogged with internet and software "garbage" that the machine has been accumulating every day for months on end.

There are a variety of reasons for this, but this article aims to deal with just one of them - the Windows Registry - so long an area excluded to all but the techno geeks among us, with dire warnings of the dangers of editing your registry!

This was fair, because an inexperienced user running rampant with their delete key in the registry minefield would certainly spell danger for the unfortunate copy of Windows on their machine. Nowadays, things have become a lot easier....

It is quite simple now for people to look after their Windows Registry and this is fortunate indeed, because with high speed internet connections allowing people to download and install a whole host of applications and files, it does not take long for the registry to become horribly clogged with extraneous bits and pieces, all of which will slowly but surely degrade performance of your operating system.

If you don't like the idea of delving around and trying to understand the workings of this mysterious area of Windows, there are plenty of affordable software solutions on the market today - see the foot of this article for a couple of suggestions. Many will offer free trial periods, and will demonstrate in an easy to understand format, just how bad things have become! If you haven't checked your registry in a while, or maybe even never, you should serioulsy consider doing so. You will probably be very happy with the results of a thorough clean up, all at the push of a button and without risking the ruination of your valuable Windows operating system.

Just like anti virus, anti spyware/adware programs, a good registry leaner should be high on your shopping list. When I've shown people the results of a registry scan after just one week of internet use, they are extremely surprised by the large number of conflicts thrown up - often into  the hundreds! 

In conclusion, keep your registry clean, and if your other system maintenance tasks are kept up to  date, you and your  PC will be far happier in your partnership for a long time to come.

4. Windows Part 1: Un-Install Programs, Update Windows, Defragment Hard Drives

his is the first of many more articles to come. I will show you step by step how you can take back control over your windows computer. Just follow my instructions and soon you will be using your computer to work or play again instead of spending hours trying to just keep it running. Best of all, I won't try to sell you anything. I will show you ways to do many things on your computer for free. As with most instructions, please read the whole thing before doing anything.

Lets start with a little house cleaning. Close all programs on your computer. Click on the "START" button in the bottom left corner, select "Settings", then "Control Panel". A new window should have opened up. Double click on "Add/Remove Programs". This will show you most of the programs installed on your computer. Go through the list and if you find any that you installed, but no longer need or use, just un-install them. This will free up disk space. Some un-install programs will ask you to restart your computer. When you are done go ahead and restart again. Windows loves to be restarted. Be careful that you do not un-install programs you are still using and also do not un-install any Windows updates. Basically, if you don't know what it is, don't touch it!

After a clean restart, we will now make sure your computer has the latest updates installed. Click on "START", then on "Windows Update". If you do not have Windows Update in the START menu, open Internet Explorer, then click on Tools, then on Windows Update. Follow instructions on the Microsoft Update website and install all available critical updates for your computer. Restart when prompted to do so. Also, select to automatically check for updates. But do not select to automatically download and install them. You always want to be asked before downloading and installing updates! This can take a long time and just let your computer do it's thing. You can do something else in the meantime. Restart when you are done.

Now that your computer is updated and we've also done a little house cleaning, it is time to de-fragment the hard drive. Windows is not very efficient in where it puts stuff on your hard drive. After a while it gets fragmented. But Windows includes a tool to clean that up. You should do this at least once a week if you use your computer on a daily basis. Double-click the "My Computer" icon on the desktop. A new window will open and show you all hard drive, CR ROM drives and other storage devices connected to your computer. In most cases your main hard drive will be labeled the "C:" drive. If it has any other letter, that's OK too. Right-click on it, then select "Properties". Another window will open. At the bottom to the right click on "disk cleanup", then select all check boxes. If you have off-line web pages, do not select them. If you don't know what they are, you probably have not used that feature and can select it. Then click on "OK" and on "Yes" in the confirmation box. Once this is cleaned up, click on the Tool tab and then on "Defragment now". In the new window, click on Defragment again and let the computer defragment the hard drive. Depending on the size of your hard drive, this can take several hours, especially if it's the first time you do this. Just let it run until it is done. Repeat these steps for all other hard drives you have on your computer.

That's all. You have now deleted un-needed programs, updated Windows and de-fragmented your hard drive. Restart your computer and your computer will be more secure and run better than before. Check back for more articles on how to take back control over your computer.

5.  Windows Keyboard Shortcuts

When I observe most colleagues and friends working on their PC's they mostly use the mouse as they are unaware of the powerful Windows keyboard shortcuts that will make their lives so much easier. Some people might be aware of the keyboard shortcuts, but they are used to be working mostly with the mouse and old habits are hard to let go.

In this article I will take things step by step so you can learn the keyboard shortcuts that are required to navigate your way around the Windows operating system.

Let’s assume your machine is starting up and due to a faulty mouse or some other related problem your system cannot be accessed with the mouse. A user that is not using keyboard shortcuts on a regular basis will be completely lost. Ok it’s relatively cheap to replace the mouse, but what if you had to quickly perform a task that cannot wait until a new mouse is acquired or the problem is fixed?

<b>Navigating the Start Menu in Windows XP</b>

I will firstly explain how to launch an application without the use of the mouse and instead use keyboard shortcuts. Immediately after system startup if you are required to log in, type out your password and press the Enter key. Once the system have fully initialized you will be presented with the Windows Desktop. As an example we will launch Notepad. Follow the steps exactly as explained below: 

Press Ctrl and Esc to show the Start menu or press the Windows Logo key. Now press the Up Arrow until you can see the selection rectangle moving upwards in the Start menu. Once the selection rectangle enters the Start menu press the Left Arrow to move to the left section of the Start menu. Then press the Down Arrow until "All Programs" is selected. Press the Right Arrow to expand the "All Programs" menu. Press the Down Arrow until "Accessories" is selected. Press the Right Arrow to expand the accessories menu. Now press the Down Arrow until the Notepad menu item is selected and the press Enter. This will cause the Notepad application to launch.

Armed with this basic keyboard shortcut knowledge you will be able to launch any application without the use of the mouse.

<b>Moving Around the Desktop</b>

Frequently users place icons on the desktop to quickly access some application, files or folders they regularly use. What now if the mouse packs up and you have to get to that file? Here is how to make use of the Windows keyboard shortcuts to get that done:
Depending on the current situation different steps might be required so keep in mind that you do not have to do all the steps.

Press the Windows Logo key and M simultaneously to minimize all Windows. Press Ctrl and Esc simultaneously and then press Esc again. (Only required under certain conditions so you might only need to perform this step if you do not get the desired results from the step below). Press the Tab key and release it. Keep on pressing and releasing it until you see a "focus rectangle" surrounding one of the icons on the desktop. If there are a lot of icons on the desktop you might need to look carefully if any receives the focus indicated by the focus rectangle. Also occasionally use the arrow keys to see if you can move between different icons if it is difficult to notice the icon with the focus rectangle. Normally the focus will move between the Windows Taskbar and the last icon that had the focus (being selected) on the desktop when the Tab key is pressed. Once you got the "focus rectangle" on any icon on the desktop it is just a matter of moving to the icon of your choice using the arrow keys. When the required icon got the focus or is selected press the Enter key to open the file, folder or launch a program.

<b>Working with Windows</b>

Our next step in this Windows keyboard shortcuts article is to manipulate windows in the context of minimizing, maximizing, moving and closing them. To minimize the currently active window press Alt and Spacebar. The Control Menu for the window will appear. Now press N to minimize the window. 

To maximize or get a window to its restored state when it is minimized to the Windows Taskbar hold down Alt and then press and release the Tab key until the desired window is selected. When the window of choice is selected also release the Alt key which will ensure that the window will either be maximized or restored depending on its previous state. 

If you want to maximize a window from its restored state press Alt and Spacebar. After the Control Menu appears press X to maximize the window. To restore an maximized window press Alt and Spacebar. When the Control Menu appear press R to get the window from its maximized to restored state. 

To move a window press Alt and Spacebar. When the Control Menu appear press M. Now use the arrow keys to move the window to the desired location and press the Enter key to round of this operation. 

When you want to re-size a window press Alt and Spacebar. When the Control Menu appear press S. Now press the arrow keys depending on which side you want to size the window from. Right will take you to the right edge of the window for sizing and the Down arrow will take you to the bottom right corner for sizing purposes. When pressing the left key first you will be taking to the window left border to carry out sizing from that side. Once you have selected your sizing location by pressing the left or right arrows and up or down arrows do the sizing by using any of the arrow keys. When finished press Enter to complete this operation. Pressing the Esc key will leave the original size of the window intact. 

To close the currently active window press Alt and F4 or press Alt and Spacebar, then press C.
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