Top Tips




BSOD, in case you were wondering is the Blue Screen of Death, which pops up on Windows PC following a crash or serious problem with the operating system. You donít seem them so much with Windows XP but believe me, they still happen, and when they do itís usually when you are right in the middle of something important, or you havenít saved your work recently. The BSOD screensaver is a fiendish rendition of the dreaded blue screen thatís guaranteed to provide you with a few heart-stopping moments, until you remember that itís only a screensaver and if you move the mouse or press a key it goes away. I wonít suggest placing it on a colleagues PC as a prank because that would just be plain mean, and you shouldnít be messing with other peopleís computers, but the reaction it gets from those who arenít expecting it, is very funny. 



If you are into 3D modelling or just enjoy making watching wacky shaped objects dance around your monitor screen then you really must have a play with SketchUp. Itís a simple yet powerful tool for creating 3D designs, and itís free from Google. Use the drawing tools to create simple or complex shapes, or choose from the library of ready made components then push or pull them give the shape form, add colour and texture, twist and turn and watch as shadow and lighting effects bring it to life. Itís brilliant, but hereís the clever part, itís fully integrated with Google Earth so you can add your shapes to the images, see what a restaurant or skyscraper would look like in your back garden or design a new bridge for the English Channel. 



Ever needed to convert acres into hectares, tablespoons into Litres or feet per second into kilometres per hour? Of course you have, but rather than reach for the slide rule or the nearest calculator just click on English2Metric. Itís a super-simple units converter for Windows (all versions) and Linux and although the range of units is fairly limited, (and watch out for those dodgy US gallons...), it covers all of the commonly used ones, it is very easy to use, and whatís more itís completely free!



Windows XP has itís own built-in backup facility, and considering itís a freebie itís not too bad at all. There are also plenty of paid-for backup programs on the market, and most of them are also very good, but hereís a freeware program thatísí well worth investigating, especially if you want to do something tricky, like saving your backups to a drive on another networked PC. Karenís Replicator also happens to be very easy to setup and use, itís flexible too with plenty of configuration options and it can handle just about any backup task, from single folders to entire drives, with all data or incremental backups carried out at scheduled intervals, from minutes to months.



Although normally very reliable PC memory modules can do some very odd things when they go wrong. Windows Memory Diagnostic is one of the best memory checkers around and whatís more itís available free from Microsoft. Itís not especially fast or fancy to look at but it is reliable, and very thorough. Once the program has been downloaded it has to be copied to a floppy disc (remember them?) or a recordable CD, which is used to boot the PC, in order to carry out the tests. Youíll find the download and a full set of instructions on the Windows Memory Diagnostic home page.




Hi Rick, to reveal system information, such as your BIOS version, processor, memory and page file info, simply go to Start > Run and type in Ďdxdiagí (without the quotes)

and DirectX Diagnostic Tool will open. Then click on the System tab and all will be revealed. You can also test Direct X components using this.

Andrew Jones (aged 9)



Strange as it may seem there are some people who just donít like Microsoft, and I hasten to add Iím not one of them. MS products and their funny little ways have kept me in gainful employment for many yearsÖ 


Anyway, for those few dissidents out there who are happy to put up with Windows but draw the line at stuffing their PC with any more MS products, have a look at the TheOpenCD.


Itís a collection of high quality free Open Source programs that run under Windows, including a good few BootLog favourites. Thereís MS compatible office suites and word processors (OpenOffice, AbiWord), design and layout (Gimp, Tux Paint), multimedia (Audacity, Celestia), web, email and network (Firefox, Thunderbird, TightVNC) plus a good selection of games and utilities. Theyíre all free and ready to download and burn onto CD, but if donít fancy that you can also buy a ready-made copy.



What would you say is the most important component in your PC? Full marks if you said the hard disc drive. Your processor chip and power supply can pop their clogs and your memory and motherboard can develop mange and it doesnít matter too much, they can be replaced but if your disk drive shuffles off its coils -- mortal and electrical -- you are stuffed! Another question, just how much do you know about your HDD? How healthy is it, how hot is it and how long has it been in use? All these questions and more can be answered by a super little freeware utility called HD Tune. Everything you want to know about your drive(s) will be revealed, and a regular check-up, keeping tabs on its well-being could well save you a whole lot of trouble one day!



Thereís nothing wrong with the Windows XP clock display, itís functional and easy to read but it isnít very interesting. You used to be able to customise the clock in older versions of Windows but with XP what you see is what you get. If you fancy ringing in the changes, with a variety of different clock styles, including some natty analogue designs -- remember when clocks had hands -- then a little freeware utility called Analog Clock 2 is just what youíve been waiting for. Thereís a selection of Ďskinsí, so you can change its appearance and when you Ďhoverí your mouse pointer over the clock a calendar display pops up, great stuff!



I am becoming increasingly dismayed by the complexity and unnecessary bells and whistles that seem to be built into every new media player that somehow manages to find its way on to my PC, so I was very pleasantly surprised with Media Player Classic 6.4, which I have been trialling for the past few months. Itís basically an Open Source rewrite of the old Windows Media Player, but with lots of genuinely useful features, like the ability to play DVDs (providing you already have the codecs installed), as well as RealMedia files (using the RealAudio or RealAlternative codecs), DivX videos, QuickTime, AVI, MP3, CD audio and so on. Best of all it is small, uses hardly any system resources, unbelievably easy to use and it is free! Give it a try, you will be impressed!



You list Spacemonger (freeware graphical disc viewer) on your Software page, but have you tried WinDirStat, which in my opinion is even better? 

Paul ĎWoodyí Woodman





If you have a digital camera youíve got to try AutoStitch. This ingenious little program is a brilliant way to create spectacular panoramic images, and itís almost foolproof. Simply stand in one spot and snap away trying to capture as much of what you can see as possible. You donít have to worry about overlapping, or taking shots in sequence, the program takes care of all that for you, seamlessly matching images and blending them together into one picture. Itís fully automatic, simply launch the program, tell it which images to use and away it goes. This is a fully functional freeware demo and it will open the finished image in your default image editing program, which you can then save and print as normal.



The calculator built into Windows (Start > Programs > Accessories) is handy for quick sums but did you know it also has an alternative Scientific mode for more advanced calculations?  Just click the View menu and select Scientific. Better still, if you want some real mathematical muscle on your PC download and install the Microsoft Power Calculator. Itís part of the PowerToys suite of freeware add-ons for Windows XP and in addition to a range of advanced graphical, trig and  log functions it has a nifty Conversion mode that lets you convert common units of measurement for Length, Mass, Time, Velocity, and Temperature.



You know what itís like setting up a new PC; you spend ages installing your core applications, then hours hunting down all of your favourite utilities and tools. I have created a CD-ROM with all my must-have programs, but if you havenít got around to doing that yet you might like to have a look at Google Pack. It's an eclectic collection of software, obviously with a strong Googlish flavour (Google Earth, Desktop, Toolbar and so on) but with some of our favourites as well, including Mozilla Firefox, Picasa, AdAware and Adobe Reader. You can pick and choose what you want and itís all conveniently packaged together in one download.



The trouble with most PC userís passwords is they are often simple words or names and usually easy to guess, if you know the person, or they can be quickly exposed using readily available Ďbrute forceí cracking programs. For a password to be truly effective it should be a random collection of alphanumeric characters and hereís a super fast way to create one. Just pop along to the Goodpassword web site, tell it how many characters you need, make a few simple choices and click the Create Password button.



One of the most useful PC accessories you can own is a shoebox. Theyíre the right size and shape for storing all of the discs and manuals youíll need to revive a dead PC or configure a new one to your way of working. The shoebox should be where you keep your operating system installation or recovery discs, an emergency start-up disc, your motherboard drivers and utilities plus driver discs for all of your hardware peripherals, such as the printer, scanner, memory card reader, web cam and any networking components. If thereís any room left you can keep your program installation discs in there as well.



Peter Souchonís tip concerns a program to take control of the programs that launch with Windows.


You mentioned in F!F!F! a Start-up Manager program, which I can't comment on, but I thought I would pass on an alternative called Startup Delayer. I use this because when I boot my PC, my broadband modem isn't quite ready before the Internet connection is started. It also helps to stagger some of my other programs, which start automatically, starting such as Outlook. It is easy to use, lists all the programs that start with Windows and you can select which ones to adjust just by dragging a timeline at the bottom of the window. In advanced mode you can even delete programs from starting with Windows.


Reader's Tip -- VOCAL SUPPORT

Tired of typing? Our old friend Vivian Dunn has rediscovered a free voice recognition program that actually works, and whatís more itís from Microsoft


As a two-finger typist, I have been searching for many years for some freeware voice recognition software. Despite my best endeavours with Google, I have never been successful. However, recently an American web friend pointed me at a website where one can actually download a free Microsoft speech recognition system.


You need to download the SAPI SDK 4 Suite (a fairly hefty 40MB) and although it appears to be designed a few years ago, it works very well with Windows XP. Like most speech recognition software, it starts with a wizard that helps you to train the system to recognise your voice, before letting you lose with 'Microsoft Dictation'. There's also another programme in the package called 'Microsoft Voice' which enables one to control the pc by voice commands. You can use them both at the same time or separately. You can also train the system to recognise other users' voices..



Itís worth checking the Event Viewer every so often, to keep an eye on your PCís general health and a good way to remind you to do just that it is to use WinAlarm. This handy little freeware program can be set to remind you to do things with a colour-coded on-screen display and sound at a predetermined time or date, or repeatedly at daily, weekly, monthly or yearly intervals. It also has a Ďsnoozeí button if you donít need remindingÖ The program is suitable for all recent versions of Windows  (98, SE, ME, 2K, XP), its multi-lingual, the download is 913kb and it can be found at:




When you buy a hard disc drive thatís usually all you get and youíre left to your own devices to figure out what to do with it. Fortunately most hard disc manufacturers have decent web support sites with a wealth of tutorials, FAQs and downloadable utilities, designed to help both expert and novice users install and use their products. Hereís a selection of addresses for the main players. (Western Digital)




If you are not comfortable about installing a RAM upgrade just yet but would like to keep an eye your PCís memory resources download and install this handy little utility. RAMpage constantly monitors your system memory showing how much is free from a display in the System Tray. If you need to free up more memory, to run an application simply click on the display, or right click to configure. The program works with all versions of Windows, the Zip file is only 170k and it is freeware. Youíll find the download file at:




Temporary (*.tmp) files is only one of a group of files that waste space on your PC but rather than removing them all manually try this freeware utility called HDCleaner. It is programmed to look for the commonest type of junk files and space wasters and you can add your own. As an added bonus it also identifies duplicate files and cleans up your Run, Find, Recent and typed URL History logs, leaving your hard disc squeaky clean. HDCleaner works with all versions of Windows, the download file is just over 800kb and it can be found at:




When disposing of an old PC you should at the very least reformat the hard drive. For a basic format simply boot the PC from a Windows 95/98/SE or ME Emergency Startup disc and at the flashing prompt type Ďformat C:í (without the quotes) then press Enter. However, even after formatting data can still be retrieved using specialised recovery applications. To thoroughly cleanse a disc you will need a utility like Active Killdisk (free from: This erases information on the disc and then overwrites it with random data so that recovery becomes almost impossible.




If you have a Wi-Fi enabled laptop and you want to make use of public Hotspots then a little gadget called a Wi-Fi ĎSnifferí, ĎSeekerí or ĎFinderí could come in very handy. Most Sniffers have a LED bargraph display that shows when you are within range of a wireless network; the more lights that are lit the stronger the signal. More sophisticated models also have an LCD display that shows the Hotspotís ID and whether or not it is encrypted. Basic key ring sized sniffers cost from around £25 and are readily available from on-line retailers and PC suppliers. 




Most of us take our ability to hear for granted and as we get older changes occur quite naturally and generally they go unnoticed. Needless to say if you become aware of any significant changes in your hearing you should consult your doctor immediately but you can carry out a rough and ready check on your ability to perceive sounds of different pitches by going to


This site features a simple hearing test that you can carry out on your PC, using a pair of headphones. There is also a questionnaire, compiled by German medical experts (in English, of course) that will analyse the results and indicate whether or not you may have an impairment.




There are a number of utilities for Windows 9x (95/98/ME/SE), to check and correct your PC clock and date settings every time you log on to the Internet or at scheduled intervals. The freeware offerings are often just as good and in some cases even better than the commercial programs so have a look at: Time Synchronizer (, DS Clock ( and SymmTime (




The beauty of modern film and digital cameras is that they are so easy to use, just point and shoot. Nevertheless, a lot of photographers still like to get their hands dirty, but you can quickly get bogged down in the mathematics of lenses, exposure times, shutter speeds and depth of field calculations. The excellent Calculators On-Line web site contains a whole section devoted to specialist photographic calculators at:


but do have a look at the top of the page, where youíll find links to more than 16,900 web calculators, covering everything from Aquaculture to X-Ray Interactions.




The image sensor in your digital camera is a fantastically complicated device and if just a couple of the picture elements (pixels) are faulty it can ruin your photographs. This simple little freeware utility checks for dead or Ďhotí (over sensitive) pixels by analysing images taken on your camera. Simply leave the lens cap on, take a few photographs, download the files to your PC and run Deadpixeltest. In just a second or two it displays a detailed report on your cameraís image sensor performance. The zip file is only 191kb and it can be downloaded from:




Itís all very well transferring your pictures and files to a portable memory device, but what happens if you loose it? Thereís only one way to secure your data and thatís to encrypt it. CryptMage is a simple little freeware utility that will scramble your files, making them unreadable to anyone without the utility and the unlock code. The program only occupies 238kb of space so you can put a copy of it on your memory device. The download Ďzipí file is just 130kb and it can be found at: Itís a powerful tool, so make sure you read the instructions first!




PHOTORESCUE, shareware, $29, 820kb, Windows 2K, XP

The memory cards used in digital cameras are generally quite reliable however occasionally the data they contain can become corrupted, resulting in the loss of one or more images. Photorescue is a simple to use tool that recovers images from a wide range of memory cards. It is non-destructive so it doesnít affect the contents of the card. To see if it can help you download the trial version, which will show you what, if anything, can be recovered. The licensed version will allow you to recover and save lost images.




A!K Mouse Off-Road is a fascinating little freeware utility that monitors mouse movement, measuring the distance it travels (metric or imperial) and its speed across your mouse mat. The program sits unobtrusively in the System Tray and you can get an instant readout by hovering the pointer over the icon and you can change the colour and opacity of the optional desktop display window.  The program works in all versions of Windows and the download is only 380kb. For your copy go to:




Autoruns is a tiny freeware utility that lists all of the programs that run automatically from the Registry whilst Windows is loading.  Each item has a check box, which you can untick to stop suspect programs launching when Windows boots up. Autoruns works on all versions of Windows, the download file is just 140kb and the program is small enough to fit onto a floppy disc. To obtain your copy go to:




System Monitor allows you to visually check the data throughput of an external modem, in real time. It can be found by clicking the Start button, then Accessories and System Tools. Open System Monitor and click on the Edit menu then Add Item. Select Dial Up Adapter from the list in the Category Window and Bytes Received/Second and Bytes Transmitted/Second in the Item Window, then OK. (Note, System Monitor is not installed by default so you may have to load it from your Windows CD-ROM using Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel).




How well do you know your Windows 98 PC? Tucked away inside your machine is a complete history of its inner workings, charting system settings and changes to the hardware and software configuration. It's  useful to have a permanent record of this information, made when your PC is working normally. There are some interesting facts and figures in amongst the mass of gobbledegook and if at some stage something goes wrong, it could help you or a PC savvy friend to track down the problem more easily. To produce such a file go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information. On the File menu select Export, give the file a name Ė something along the lines 'mypc.txt' -- choose a location and click Save. You could print it out but be warned that it can run to more than 100 pages!




If you keep a lot of images on your Windows 95/98 PC it can very useful to see what is stored in folders, without opening a paint program and sifting through the files manually. Windows Explorer has a well-hidden utility for generating thumbnail views of picture files. It is disabled by default, probably because it slows Explorer down, but you can enable it selectively, so it only works on folders containing image files. Hereís what you do; open Windows Explorer and right-click on the folder you wish to view, from the drop-down menu that appears select Properties and the General tab. Check the item ĎEnable thumbnail viewí and click Apply, then OK. Go to the View menu and click Refresh, and a new item ĎThumbnailsí should appear above Large Icons on both the View menu and the drop down menu next to the Views icon on the Toolbar. Select it and the display will change to a screen full of mini preview pictures.




Hardware Info carries out a comprehensive check on driver files and the hardware attached to the machine, flagging up potential problems with colour-coded highlights. Error information is displayed in red, and warnings in blue. To start Hardware Info go to Run on the Start menu and type Ďhwinfo /uií (omitting the inverted commas of course, and then click OK. It only takes a few seconds after which the report appears. Check through the report looking for any red or blue highlights, which may indicate trouble, or potential trouble, and require further investigation. If you know a thing or two about PCs you may want to have a look at the alternative reports on the View menu. If your PC and hardware is behaving normally itís probably a good idea to leave well alone, but take note of any warnings and save your Hwinfo file for future reference or to show to an engineer.




The Version Conflict Manager Utility or VCMUI should be of interest to anyone who routinely updates their software applications. This can cause problems when files from older or newer versions of a program conflict with one another. If you've had difficulty with a recent update VCMUI should track down the offending files, and might even provide a solution, it can also highlight potential conflicts, before they've had a chance to cause problems. To give your PC's software a quick health check go to Run on the Start menu and type 'VCMUI', without the quotes of course. All being well you'll see an empty dialogue box, indicating that your applications are conflict-free, if not just follow the instructions.




System File Checker can help engineers and knowledgeable users to track down and automatically correct common problems. It's worth running the SFC every now and again, especially on well-used machines, and you never know, it may help to resolve a long-running problem; however, unless you know what you are doing it is a good idea to leave the settings on their defaults. To start the program go to Run on the Start menu and type 'sfc.exe' and click Start to begin the checking routine.




CheckLinks can be found on the Windows 98 CD-ROM and its job is to weed out shortcuts and Start menu items that no longer do anything. It's going to save you much disc space but 'broken links' can sometimes cause problems and point to programs that you no longer need or use. The Link Check Wizard can be found by going to the Tools folder then Reskit and Desktop, click on the chklnks.exe icon and follow the instructions. If you like you can copy and paste chklnk.exe to your hard drive, and include it with your regular hard disc maintenance routines.




Sometimes you just want to switch off and go, but Windows won't let you and insists that you go through the tiresome shut down ritual, but there is an easier way. This simple little tip creates a shutdown shortcut; one click is all it takes to exit Windows 9x cleanly and safely. Start by right-clicking on the desktop and select New then Shortcut. In the command line type the following (minus the quotes) 'C:\WINDOWS\RUNDLL32.EXE User,ExitWindows', then click Next, give the shortcut a name, something like 'Wingo', then click Finish and its done.




How many applications are running on your PC right now? It's easy to lose track and if your system's resources fall to dangerously low levels Windows will crash, often without warning. Windows 9x and ME has a built in monitoring utility but it's not enabled by default. There are two ways to get to it, via Start > Programs> Accessories > System Tools, or simply type 'RSRCMTR' into Run on the Start menu. This will put a little bargraph into the System Tray (next to the clock), if it shows two or more green bars you should be okay, double click the icon for more detailed information. It's well worth having this on display all of the time, to do that open the Start Up folder (Start > Programs) then go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools, hold down the Ctrl key and drag the Resource meter icon into the Start Up folder and it will open automatically every time your PC boots up.  If by any chance you can't see Resource Meter in System tools go to Ass/Remove Programs in Control Panel and select the Windows Setup tab, double Ėclick System Tools, check the item System Resource Meter, click OK and follow the on-screen prompts. 




Adding an extra cooling fan is one way to stop your PC overheating in the hot weather, but how can you tell if your computer is suffering? It just so happens that many recent PC motherboards have built in temperature sensors that keep a running check on vital components. Motherboard Monitor is a neat freeware utility that puts that information on the screen, so you can see for yourself what's going on. Not all motherboards are supported, but the program will check your PC for compatibility before it runs. The file is 1.5Mb and it can be downloaded from:




Whether you're going out for lunch or just popping out for a few minutes your PC is vulnerable to intrusion. Of course you could switch it off and there are plenty of programs that will password protect your PC and prevent Windows from loading, of you could invoke password protection on a screensaver but all that takes time or they can be easily hacked. Quick Hide is a useful little freeware program that locks the PC when it is running with a simple keyboard shortcut. It can also be set to hide the current application, the Taskbar and desktop icons, which can only be unlocked with a password. The download zip file is under 500kb in size and it's available from:




Drive Rescue is a powerful file recovery utility that could save your bacon one day! If youíve ever deleted a file by accident Drive Rescue is your best chance of getting some or all of it back, it even works on removable media and memory cards. The zip file is 1.2Mb, it runs on all versions of Windows and it can be downloaded from:




Whilst the Windows Screen Magnifier is a very useful tool for those who need an enlarged display all of the time itís sometimes handy to be able to view just small portion of the screen. A simple freeware utility called Dragnifier changes your mouse cursor into a virtual magnifying glass. Itís highly customisable with variable sized Ďglassí and magnification level and a measuring reticule. The download file is only around 130k and itís free (though the author says all contributions gratefully receivedÖ). For more details and a link to the self-extracting zip file go to:



Copyright (c) 2006 Rick Maybury Ltd.