Tips for making Windows Vista work for you

Windows VistaI’ve been using Windows Vista since the last one year and contrary to what most people think, I actually feel it is a better operating system than Windows XP. Even though, I’m mostly a Linux/Unix user, I have had to use Vista because of my job and I started with using the SP1 service pack and use the latest service pack (SP2) right now and haven’t really had any problems with it.

Sure, the resource usage is a bit high but then with the amount of RAM and CPU power most modern machines have these days, running Vista hasn’t really been a problem for me. And there are ways

But, the fact that I’ve been a happy Vista user since the last one year doesn’t mean that Vista is flawless. And even though, Windows 7 is out now, I thought I’ll share some tips to help you guys use Windows Vista as efficiently as possible.

In this post today, I’ll take you through some of the optimizations I’ve made to make my Vista experience better.

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How to setup Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook syncing for free

Google Calendar Microsoft’s email and PIM software, Outlook, is without a doubt the most popular software of it’s kind. Thousands of companies and individuals swear by it and use it day in and day out to streamline their otherwise chaotic online (and offline) lives.

Even in this day and age when cloud based solutions rule supreme, Outlook has, so far, managed to stay ahead of the rat race. And for good reason too. Microsoft Outlook along with Microsoft Exchange server provides a level of integration that the others can only dream of. And unlike Windows, this is one Microsoft software that even the users seem to love.

But, Microsoft Outlook also has it’s limits, right ? For one, it is a desktop application. Sure, Exchange does provide a pretty nice web application (If you’re using IE, that is) if your administrator allows it but for the most part Outlook is a desktop application and to make use of all the cool features it has, you need access to your desktop.

While there are ways to get access to emails while on the road (set up mail forwards, for example), getting access to your calendar on Exchange has been a little difficult until now. Today we’re going to show you how you can sync your Outlook calendar with Google’s cloud based calendar offering and have the best of both worlds. Outlook when you’re on your desk and Google Calendar when on the road.

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How to enable the 2-way Firewall in Windows Vista

Windows Vista The Internet is not a place for the weak hearted, or so the saying goes. And it has become even more dangerous, in these times of Always-On, broadband internet connections. Virus threats, DOS attacks and zombie networks have taken over the internet and there is no running away from all this chaos. The point is that if you have a computer connected to the Internet in any way, a firewall is something that you should install even if you only use the computer for a couple of hours a day.

A lot of the attacks and exploits that take place on the internet everyday target Microsoft Windows and some might even be inclined to believe that Windows is really the most insecure operating system around. I like to take such statements with a pinch of salt, though, and to be fair to Microsoft, they have been shipping a half decent firewall with Windows atleast since the XP days. While there are a number of commercial and freeware firewall utilities available for windows, not many people are aware that Windows Vista actually ships with a very capable 2-way firewall for free.

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Announce your musical tastes on Twitter using Tunes Tweeter

Tunes Tweeter There is no denying the fact that Twitter is an extremely popular web service. In fact, Twitter is more than just a web service, It is a cultural phenomenon which is going to slowly but surely take over our lives. The service is spreading like a wild fire and the user base is growing at a breakneck speed. It is everywhere – Twitter is being discussed in the media, around the blogosphere and everywhere in between.

Most Tweeps (That’s the term used to refer to people who use twitter) use Twitter to share random quotes, funny jokes and useless poetry but some actually have good engaging conversations on it. And that is where the power of Twitter lies. The ability to let normal people have conversations, cutting across all the technical and physical barriers.

If you think about it, Twitter should have been the first application every developed by mankind because it mimics the most primitive and basic nature of humans. Talking. And socialising with like minded folks. That is what Twitter is all about and that is what makes Twitter so powerful and useful.

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How to find out which process has a particular file open

Process ExplorerEver tried deleting, moving or renaming a file and got a terse message from Windows saying, you can’t ! With the reason being that the said file is in use by another process !

If you’ve ever been faced with one of those “Cannot delete a file because it is in use by another program” dialogue boxes, you’ll know how frustrating that can be.

The fact that you’ve closed every other program running on the system and still you get that message is even more annoying. So much for multitasking !

Windows, like all operating system, has no control over who requests to open a file. And when an application closes, it assumes that it’ll close and release control over all the files it opened. That sometimes doesn’t work. If an application crashes midway, or because of a bug forgets to close a file that it opened for use, Windows continues to assume that the file is still open by that application. And so if you go on to delete, move or do anything destructive with that file, you get this dreaded message.

Process Explorer

The problem is that Windows, by default, does not come bundled with any utility to help you overcome this problem. Although someone at Microsoft did recognize the need for such a tool and released the excellent Sysinternals Process Explorer.

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Access and use ISO images as normal drives using ISODisk

ISODiskThe ISO file format is the most format for sharing CD/DVD images on the Internet. A lot of software and most (all) Linux distributions are shared using this format. The advantages are that it’s a universal format and portable across operating systems. By portable, I mean that all operating systems have utilities to burn ISO images to media.

Have you ever had to burn a CD/DVD just because you wanted to check out a file that was distributed inside the ISO image ?

The problem with ISO files is that you have to actually burn the files to the disk to see the contents of the image. Sure, Linux purists can do a loop mount, but what about Windows users ?

ISODisk is the magic software that’s going to solve this problem once and for all.

ISODisk is a nice little utility that lets you “mount” ISO images to your Windows system and lets you access the contents using a regular drive. So, for example you could mount an Ubuntu ISO to drive e: and access it’s contents from there. Or, take the ISO of some software that you downloaded from the Internet, hook it up with a drive letter using ISODisk and install the software using that, instead of burning the image to a CD/DVD first.

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How to backup all the device drivers installed on your Windows PC

Windows Logo All of us have at one time or the other re-installed Windows and found out that driver required to run that one piece of hardware is not available by default in windows. And of course, if you’re like me, you wouldn’t even have the drivers CD that came with the hardware !

So, what did you do the last time you were faced with such a situation ?

Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I spent hours and hours on the Internet scouring various websites to find drivers that would work with my setup. I downloaded a lot of them, installed a couple and gave up when none of them worked. And then I repeated the same process again the next morning. I did eventually find what I was looking for, but I can tell you this, it really wasn’t the best use of my time.

That is about to change, though, because I think I’ve finally found a solution for this very problem. The next time I go about re-installing windows on my PC, I’ll make sure I take a backup of all the device drivers present on the system using Double Driver.

Double Driver is a free and utility which not only lets you view all the installed drivers on your system, it also lets you take a back up of all the drivers and, this is my best part, lets you restore from the backup whenever you want to.

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Track the time you spend on your computer with ManicTime

ManicTime I spend a lot of time online. Really, I do. A lot more than I’d like to admit.

And while I haven’t really missed a deadline for any of my projects till now, I often, at the end of the day, end up asking myself, “Where the hell did the time go ?”. And I know that I’m the only one who thinks 24 hours is too less of a time to do anything productive.

If you like me, at the end of the day, often wonder, where did you spend your time, I’ve found the perfect utility to give you the answer to that question – ManicTime.

ManicTime is a small program that sits in the system tray and collects data on your computer usage. It notes all the applications that you use, how much time you spend browsing, away from the computer or actually doing some real work.

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WinFF – a media convertor for (almost) any format

WinFFHow many times have you come across a movie or a video clip and wished that you could put it on your iPod and watch it on the go ? Or came across a DivX encoded video and wished that you could burn it to a DVD and play it on an old style DVD player ?

With the increasingly fast broadband connections that most of us have these days, videos are becoming as much a part of our daily internet consumption as text is. But, unlike text, videos are not portable – You can’t just take a video from one source and play it anywhere you want. Of course, with media players like VLC, this is less of a problem but even VLC can’t help you if you want videos from a random site to work on, say, your iPod.

If converting videos and juggling between the different file formats is becoming too much for you to handle, you should give WinFF a try.

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How to remove DRM from iTunes

iTunesDRM, Digital rights management, is the process by which music companies license the music and enforce restrictions on what you can do with the digital music files. If you’ve ever downloaded any Audio from the iTunes store in the past, chances are you’ve been served DRM infested files. What that means is that while you’ll be able to play those files just fine on your iPod/iPhone, if in the future you purchase, say, a Creative MP3 player, your music will not be playable on those.

Innovative and determined hackers have found a number of ways to strip DRM from iTunes’ audio, but they’re always playing catch up with Apple as the company keeps changing and improving their DRM scheme.

In this post today, we’ll talk about a method to not only circumvent DRM, we’ll convert the audio files into the .ogg format, which is an open source format for Audio. Once you have the music in the ogg format, it is quite easy to convert it to MP3/AAC/WAV or any other format you want.

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