Tag Archives: Windows

Download and Install a Clean Copy of Windows with Valid Product Key

This article gives you the information you need to download a clean copy of Windows from Microsoft. All you need is a valid product key.

How to Get Your Product Key
If you don’t have your product key handy, you can get it from your currently installed copy of Windows using either this tool or this tool. I’ve tested both with Windows 7 and they work well.

Why You Might Want to Do This
There are a number of reasons you might want to download a clean copy of Windows and install it over your current version. All you need is a valid product key for the version you want.

One good reason to do this is to replace your crapware burdened laptop or desktop from Dell, HP, … with a fresh and clean one with just the Microsoft components. You’ll need to install the drivers for your PC, but this is usually pretty easy if you have any experience with Windows, or know a friend who does … 🙂 … Major companies like Dell and HP usually have a page that tells you what drivers you need for your exact model and has links to download them. 

Warning About Malware Disguised as Helper Tools
Just a heads-up. If you decide to install a clean version of Windows, do not download a driver installer type program from anywhere but your computer’s manufacturer. Some of those “tools” are really malware installers and will install all sorts of unwanted software on your PC. A colleague at work took her laptop home to install a workstation image I gave her and brought it back full of malware. Rather than worry about how this happened, I just wiped the disk and installed the image and drivers she needed. I’m 95% certain she installed a “helper” tool to get the drivers she needed. It helped her all right … 😉

Another Option for Removing Crapware That Comes with New PCs
Note that if you just want to remove the crapware that often comes with new PCs, there are free tools that make this pretty easy, such as The PC Decrapifier. I’ve used this and it works well. I still prefer a new, clean Windows installation but using a tool to remove a small amount of crapware is much easier and requires very little PC knowledge.

If you have any questions, just ask in the comments!

You Don’t Need to Reinstall Windows to Keep It Stable

My commentary relates to the common idea that Windows is such a poorly designed and implemented operating system that you must regularly reinstall it to keep it from getting unstable. I was inspired by the Lifehacker article below.

http://lifehacker.com/5435523/you-dont-need-to-regularly-reinstall-windows-heres-why

This Lifehacker article is an old one (2009), but the Windows architecture hasn’t changed fundamentally and these rules of thumb still apply. I also added a lot of my own knowledge about this issue below, so please read my whole post if this interests you.

Most people who’ve used Windows for many years know that Windows tends to be like an Etch A Sketch, needing to be turned upside down and shaken periodically to erase it and start over.

I just want to say up front that I like Windows 7, really like it. Windows 8 is a nightmare I will never voluntarily use, but 7 is excellent. The underlying architecture leaves much to be desired, but Windows 7 actually runs well, at least for awhile, and in the long term you can take steps to preserve its health.

Windows’ Fatal Flaw

The absolute worst part of the Windows architecture, at least the worst part that can be fixed without a complete rewrite of the Windows kernel (core), is the Windows Registry, a database of sorts that stores all the configuration information for all parts of the Windows OS and almost all Windows applications. It’s a terrible idea with a poor implementation, and no other operating system uses anything like it, but we’re stuck with it for now because Microsoft characteristically decided to keep it for their own reasons.

Keeping Windows Healthy and Stable Long Term

The real solutions to using Windows long term are more complex and there are two options, one free and pretty easy to implement but requiring some sacrifice in time, and the other non free, requiring more effort, and having some limitations along with some advantages over the easy option.

The Easy Option

Windows 7 has a built in feature called the Restore Point. This feature allows you to take a snapshot of your current Windows system configuration (including installed applications and their configurations) and then return to that Windows system configuration at a later date.

Advantages
1. Setting a Restore Point gives you a way to return to a known good state of your Windows installation when you run into trouble with Windows itself or a specific Windows application. This can be a real time and frustration saver if you install a malware or other bad application that makes your Windows behave badly and can’t uninstall it easily. After cleaning my son Joshua’s laptop of a zillion malware infections, I set a restore point that he can return to when he invariably gets reinfected with this crap by downloading _free_ stuff to play with.

Disadvantages

1. The obvious disadvantage is that when you restore your Windows installation to a Restore Point, you lose all the application installations you made after that Restore Point. This is a necessary trade-off because it’s often adding all those extra applications that made your Windows unstable.

2. Setting Restore Points uses disk space, and can use many GB of storage in some cases, but if you have a modern PC/laptop with a 500GB or larger hard disk, it’s worth setting aside 100GB or so for restore points if you plan to use them.

3. If you use Microsoft’s Bitlocker to encrypt your hard disk so no one can access your personal information, you need to be extra sure to have the Bitlocker Recovery Key available somewhere outside the actual Windows PC because when you restore your system to a previous Restore Point, you will need to enter your Recovery Key to gain access to your restored system. Without this recovery key, you will have no access to your system and will have to start over with a new Windows installation, a very bad result. Again, this warning/disadvantage only applies if you use Bitlocker and most people don’t have the Windows Enterprise or Ultimate editions that include Bitlocker, but I just wanted to include this warning for those who do.

The Not So Easy Option

As I said above, this option is not free (usually) and involves more technical knowledge and more work to maintain, but it gives you a huge amount of flexibility and can also be used along with the Restore Point option above. I recommend this solution to my team at work, and since we regularly use multiple versions of Windows and Linux, servers and clients, sometimes two or more at once, this option works well for us and is worth the effort. I am not going to completely explain this option because it is pretty complex, but I’ll lay out the basics below and if you are interested in learning more, please say so in the comments and I’ll expand this article or, more likely, write a new one focused on this option.

Virtual Machines (VMs) are the key part of this option. (I need to describe hypervisors and virtual machines in another post, but you don’t need to understand much about these to use this option.) Basically, this option involves setting up Windows or another operating system (which can be Linux or Mac OS-X) on your computer and then you create virtual machines of the operating systems you want to work and play with.

The list of pros and cons is longer and more complex for this option. I’ll put the disadvantages list first since it will include the requirements for implementing this option.

Disadvantages
1. You need to purchase a tool such as VMware Workstation or download the more limited but potentially usable VMware Player to implement this option.

2. Since you’ll effectively be running multiple operating systems, one as the “host” OS that you boot your computer with and one or more others that you run using the virtual machine tool, you’ll need more RAM (4 GB minimum and more is better), more disk space (500GB or more to be safe for most people), and a decent CPU (Core i3, i5, or i7 Intel or equivalent AMD CPU).

3. You need a license for all non-free operating systems (e.g. Windows) that you use in this setup. This can get expensive, depending on what you want.

4. This takes a good bit of time to set up, depending on what you want, and maintain, depending again on what you want.

5. VM software such as VMware is getting better all the time, but there are still applications, mostly shooter type games, that don’t run well in VMs. You may need to install these on the host/boot operating system and maybe use the Restore Point option above to allow you to get your host Windows OS back to a safe point if the game messes up Windows.

Advantages

1. This option allows you to run almost any operating system in VMs to take what are called snapshots of the VM that allow you to return to exactly that state.

2. You can copy VMs between computers, share them with friends, and do anything you can do with a directory of files. Most VMs are actually just directories full of files on your host operating system’s hard disk, so you have lots of options on what to do with them.

Conclusion

I’d like to expand or clarify this post to be more helpful, or correct any errors, so if you’ve read this far and think of something that can improve it, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!

Windows Clipboard Enhancement Tools

This is a fairly comprehensive article on the available Windows Clipboard enhancement tools. I use Ditto because it’s open source and has lots of functionality, but it’s not the best looking one by far.

Microsoft should include a much better clipboard that they do, but since they don’t. there’s no reason for you not to benefit from one of these third party tools. There should be something here for everyone.

http://www.howtogeek.com/126930/the-best-tools-for-enhancing-and-expanding-the-features-of-the-windows-clipboard/

Best Windows Based File Copy Tool

I’m creating a guide to help members of my team at work move from the corporate network to a development network, which will allow us to finally get off Windows XP and maintain our ability to do real development on our laptops. As part of the move to Windows 7, I’m looking into the best tools that complement the built-in abilities of Windows 7 and the various development tools such as Qt Creator, Visual Studio, and Eclipse that we’ll be using. My guide will focus on Windows even though we support Linux and Android as well, because we run Windows on our dev laptops and use VMs to support Linux when possible and dedicated machines on the network otherwise. We of course deploy Android apps to our small set of Android devices for testing.

I’ve been using TeraCopy on XP for awhile now on Windows and highly recommend it. It’s free for personal use and is about $20 if you want to use it commercially. I also run RichCopy, which is a free GUI front end for the RoboCopy utility built into Windows 7. I prefer open source applications wherever possible, but sometimes the proprietary apps are so much better it’s worth the compromise.

Anyway, if you’re looking for good copy enhancements or alternatives for Windows, the articles below are good references.

http://www.raymond.cc/blog/12-file-copy-software-tested-for-fastest-transfer-speed/

http://www.howtogeek.com/73887/battle-of-the-file-copiers-windows-teracopy-and-supercopier/

I will probably be recommending both TeraCopy and RichCopy as good options in my Windows 7 migration guide.

I want to mention one potential replacement for the above tools. Ultracopier is an up and coming open source file copy tool that’s cross platform and written in C++/Qt. I’ll be keeping an eye on this tool to see if it can replace the tools above. Since I use Windows, Linux, and OS-X, and sometimes develop in C++/Qt, this would be a great solution.

http://ultracopier.first-world.info/

 

 

Useful and Free Microsoft Tools for IT Workers

I work as a developer and architecture guidance lead on a project supporting Windows, Linux, and Android systems. I’m a veteran UNIX developer and have long used many of the best UNIX tools. I thought I knew most of the free Windows tools too, but some of these are new to me and most are worth a look to see if they’ll enhance your productivity.

http://www.itworld.com/data-centerservers/183005/15-incredibly-useful-and-free-microsoft-tools-it-pros

Sysinternals Tools For Windows Developers

I just ran across this 2010 article detailing some of the Sysinternals tools available from Microsoft. Sysinternals started as a private company run by two smart guys, but their tools were good enough that Microsoft bought the company. The tools are free (of charge) but not open source.

Some of these tools (like Process Explorer) are very popular and used by developers on my team. Others are less known but look like they would be very useful, especially the PS utilities, some of which allow you to identify and kill hung processes. Give them a try.

Helpful Hint – Transferring Data Between Machines

I work as a software team lead supporting a GIS toolkit for Windows, Linux, and Sparc Solaris machines. We often need to transfer large (>4GB) chunks of files between machines of different types, say Windows PC and Solaris workstations. These machines are not always networked together so you can’t always use ftp or another copy protocol to get the job done. The best way I’ve found to solve this problem is to use a USB drive to transfer the data as described below.

  1. Copy the data off your USB drive to a temporary backup location
  2. Reformat the USB drive as one FAT32 partition consisting of 1/4 or 1/5 of the drive and a NTFS partition that spans the rest of the drive.
  3. Copy your backed up data back onto the NTFS portion of the newly formatted drive.

The size of the FAT32 partition depends on the amount of data you will need to transfer between different machine types at a time. We have mostly 500GB USB drives so we format 100GB as FAT32 and the other 400 or so GB as NTFS. Adjust as you see fit.

Many people know (but sometimes forget) that almost all major modern operating systems support FAT32 out of the box. This includes all flavors of Windows, Mac OS-X, Linux, the PS3, and more. So the simple procedure above gives you a chunk of storage that all major operating systems can read and write out of the box while retaining most of the drive formatted as NTFS, which is a superior file system but sometimes requires extra drivers on non-Windows operating systems. Whenever you need to copy from one machine type to another, just copy the data onto the FAT32 partition of your USB drive, connect it to the target computer, and just copy the data over. The primary reason not to format your whole drive as FAT32 is that FAT32 limits file size to 4GB, so if you have files larger than about 4GB, you’ll need to break them into smaller pieces before you copy them to the FAT32 partition and reassemble them later. There are tools for doing this (e.g. http://www.jaist.ac.jp/~hoangle/filesj/ ), but I’ve never found it necessary to use one.

If you don’t have a USB drive or otherwise have a need for very secure data storage, I highly recommend the Aegis Padlock drives from Apricorn. These drives support up to 256 bit AES encryption with a keypad built into them, so there is no software installation needed to use the drives. We’ve had 15 or more of the 500GB version for more than a year and are starting to get the 750GB version, and we’ve had no issues at all with them. Best of all, the drives are less than $200 each, which is a very low price for such a great drive.

Links

Aegis Padlock Drives – http://www.apricorn.com/products/hardware-encrypted-drives/apricorn-padlock-256-bit-aes-encrypted-usb-drive.html

File splitter and recombiner – http://www.jaist.ac.jp/~hoangle/filesj/

 

Evernote is Great!

I don’t usually cheer for commercial products, especially closed source ones. But Evernote is a special case. It’s an organization app that supports storing notes, pictures, sound recordings, just about anything you can digitize, and has well designed apps for most major platforms, including the web, Windows and Mac, IOS and Android … There isn’t an official version for Linux yet.

There are other apps that have most of what Evernote has, but Evernote beats these others in design. It looks good, works the way you expect it to. It just does most things right, better than the other organization apps out there. Evernote looks and feels right and works the way you expect it to, and its possession of this rare set of traits matters much more than any particular functionality in the long run.

I pay for a premium Evernote subscription and I also paid for a year’s subscription to Remember the Milk, but I eventually gave up on Remember the Milk because I just couldn’t get over the user interface. I now use a web app called Producteev combined with Astrid to manage my tasks and the user interfaces on these apps are excellent, making them a pleasure to use.

If you’re looking for an app to organize all your digital information, give Evernote a try.