Microsoft Windows PC Resources on the Web
This is a collection of PC programs, utilities and Web sites that I have
found usefull. It is not complete, but since I informally maintain many
different PC's at many different locations, I figured I'd build this
page so that I don't have to constantly remember where to find that
I've added a prevention section (last updated 06Oct2005)
I and others who help people fix problems with their Microsoft Windows
computers are seeing a large increase in problems with various forms
of malware (viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, rootkits, etc). Very
often the user has been fooled (social engineering) into doing
something that they would not ordinarily do. If you are a Microsoft
Windows user, there are several things you can do to avoid the
painful, difficult and costly recovery of the control of your
- First, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. (I've tried to list these suggestions in order of ease of implementation.)
- Keep Windows up to date. Turn on Automatic
Microsoft's instructions on how to turn on
The time between security patch release, and the malware which takes
advantage of unpatched systems has become remarkably
short. Microsoft's security updates are not perfect and they can break
some aspects of the way your computer works, but in general the
problem introduced by the patch is far less painful than the problem
generated by the security hole the patch fixes. The following web
sites from Microsoft deals with the broader scope of
And this web site from Microsoft deals with other specifics for
protecting your Microsoft Windows computer.
- Keep your Anti-Virus software up to date. Do not
let your subscription to new definitions lapse, and set the
definitions update to automatically download and install the new
definitions. This is really a no-brainer and I'm appalled by the
number of people that do not follow this. Yes, you've got to spend
money to keep your Microsoft Windows computer safe.
- Keep any other security related software up to date - Firewalls and
- Use an alternative web browser. Don't use Internet Explorer!
Really. Use Mozilla's Firefox,
or some of the other alternative browsers. Additionally you may want
to "hide" Internet Explorer (IE) so that you or anybody else using your
computer does not inadvertently use it. You can do this by deleteing
the visible shortcuts or icons on the desktop. You cannot uninstall
Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and you would be very unhappy if you
did succeed, so don't try to un-install IE.
- Set the security on Internet Explorer to maximum
- In particular, force all ActiveX controls to prompt you for
installation, running, scripting, etc.You will occasionally need to
use IE for some web-site that requires it, so you need to limit the
possible damage by preventing ActiveX technology from installing and
running. You'll be quite surprised at how many websites you visit with
IE use these essentially unncessary little beasts. This site contains a
full description of all of the
IE Security Zones settings.
- Do not use Microsoft's free email client Outlook Express - use
Thunderbird email client. Microsoft has done a huge amount of work
to improve the security of this program but because it is the "big
target" and it uses ActiveX technology, avoid it - besides
"Thunderbird" is better.
- Do not use AOL IM (AIM) or Microsoft Messenger for Instant Messageing
- these IM clients allow ActiveX controls and various other problem
technologies to invade your computer. Use
GAIM. It's not as full featured and flashy as
the market leaders, but it works and it's much safer.
- Click the [x] in the top right corner of an unexpected web
window to close it. Don't click any other button or item
within the window. Learn what "social engineering" is - Malware
writers try to fool you into opening their program, or clicking on and
opening their email. If you don't know who the email is from, don't
open it. If you know who it is from open it only if you either were
expecting an email from them, or you know the subject could not be
faked. This technique of fooling the target into doing something they
ordinarily wouldn't is called "social engineering". Here are some
- An email that came with the subject "I
love you". The attachment was called love-letter-for-you.txt.vbs. A
large number of people opened it. There are now over 82 variants of
the "love letter" exploit.
- An email that arrives with the subject "Anna Kournikova
Pics". The attachment looks like it is a picture of an athletic young
woman, the tennis player who was easy on the eyes, Anna
Kournikova. In fact the attachment is not what it seems and the users
who clicked on it to see the picture had their computer infected.
- A web browser window designed to look like a windows error message
pops up on your screen and says "You have Spyware" and
offers you a chance to get rid of it. If you click OK. You've just
agreed to have some unknown software run on your machine - possibly
- Free software should be regarded with deep
suspicion. Free utilities to fix your computer, free toolbars
to "help" you search the web, free whatever to help you do anything -
all of it should be very carefully checked. If it offering to take
care of spyware - check
or sites like it for information on spyware cures that are worse
than the disease. Almost nothing is really
free. File sharing software (P2P apps) are particularly bad. Avoid
them. There are some exceptions to the avoid Free software rule, one
is "Open Source" software (community developed software that you
can get the source or code for, examine and compile it
yourself). Some examples are software like Linux, or software from
GNU, Mozilla, etc. There are other pieces of free software that appear
to be safe but you should always ask your favorite geek for their
experience with that free software you're thinking about installing.
- Create and use a non-administrator type user account at all times
except when you are installing software. This is especially true if
you have children or other naive or careless users of your
machine. Use a password on your adminstrator account so that no one
but you can install software.
- Find an easy way to do regular backups. Backups
should be done to some media that can be moved away from your
computer. CD or DVD writers or external hard drives are not
expensive. Microsoft Windows has software included to do
backups. There are numerous "third party" solutions to backups. My
favorites are imaging systems like
Acronis "True Image"
Symantec's "Norton Ghost"
which would let you recover from a complete disaster in a few easy
steps. The hardest part is setting up the system, the hardware, the
software and the schedule, to do a backup regularly. Whatever system
you pick, it has to be easy, meaning it requires very little further
thought, doesn't take much time, and allows you to walk away while it
finishes. Even better would be a system that does the backup on a
schedule, un-attended. If you don't do the backup then it does you no
good. Remember you do not want a system that erases your most recent
backup before you complete another.
- Finally - Move away from Microsoft Windows -
It's a numbers game,
it has nothing to do with Microsoft being bad or good or some
other moral values judgment, it is simply a matter of
practicality - because Microsoft Windows is used by
the majority of computer users on the Internet, hackers target it
first and foremost.
If you're tired of all this security related
tweaking and work, get an
Apple PC with OS X (ten)
or an inexpensive PC with a free or low cost distribution of
Linux.org's list of desktop vendors
build your own.
This is particularly true if all you do is email and
surf the web. These 2 types of systems are far less likely to
suffer from the mind numbing effects of malware. I'm not alone in
this recomendation, Walt Mossberg, a respected Wall Street Journal
recommended not using Microsoft Windows This does not mean
they are completely free of the problem, but the numbers of
malware type problems are a factor of 100 to 1000 less.
If you want to try a Linux system without doing any harm or
anything complicated on your own machine, I highly recommend
Knoppix. or now,
which offers a very slick and easy "live CD" where you can run
Linux without doing anything to your Windows machine - They are
This is a Linux (Debian) based system that boots and runs
entirely from CD (or DVD), it does not install on your
machine. It is an excellent way to experiment with Linux and see
if you like it, see what it's all about, and see how easy it
Through either of these Linuxes, you can also get a look at
OpenOffice - a free open source Office like suite of programs
with word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation (PowerPoint
like) program. Good enough for 90% of Microsoft Office users.
If you realize that doing your work is more important that fixing
your computer - get away from Microsoft Windows. It can be done,
it is productive, and it can be fun.
Disclaimer: The following material is very old and
has not been updated since sometime in 1996. Although the basic
ideas are still correct, many of the specifics are now
Basic Rules for PC Problems Diagnosis:
- Listen carefully to what has been changed.
Ask about both Hardware and Software!
Check the basics:
- Always check that everything is plugged in correctly!
- Is there enough memory? (use mem/c at DOS prompt)
- Is there enough Hard Disk space?
- Always bring a DOS boot disk, a basic utilities disk,
and DOS based Anti-virus software.
- On the Boot disk:
- System, command.com
- Edit and Qbasic
- On the Basic Utilities Disk:
- MSD.exe (Microsoft's Diagnostics)
- Mem.exe (Microsoft's Memory viewer) or some other DOS based
memory viewer. (Central Point Software's MI)
- On the AntiVirus Disk: See the separate
section on Antivirus software.
- Other potentially useful software:
CPU Test I haven't tried this yet.
Configuration Test(Shareware) This program does seem to indicate
some information about the L1 and L2 Cache configurations, and does a
nice job of looking at memory timings. It does not seem to correctly
report the increased L1 cache of the Intel P55C (Pentium with MMX).
SysChk. (Shareware) This program does not seem to indicate the
processor speed correctly.
Norton Utilites for DOS, version 8.0 (Commercial) The
Sysinfo utility is not great, but the SI rating is a fairly good, and
simple, benchmark of system performance. (However, the version I tried
may have trouble with very quick machines, as I ran it on a P133 with a
Seagate ST31240A and despite values of ~400 for the processor and ~140
for the disk the overall SI was ~90 which was way below an old 486 systems
~140 despite the 486 system's individual CPU and Disk performance indicies
being significantly less that the P133.) It also comes with a disk
defragmenter/optimizer called Speedisk. There are many other utilities
bundled in this commercial package
- Wintune from
Windows Magazine. Although these are Windows (3.1x, 95, NT) products,
I've tried the Win3.1x product (Wintune 2.0) and it seems to be well
behaved, and informative.
- My guess is that the number one hardware problem, besides obvious
outright failure of a device, is a resource (IRQ or I/O port or Memory location)
conflict. Plug and Play BIOSs and Win95 are supposed to help with this,
but quite a bit of hardware is not PnP or running Win95. This is one of
the top reasons to upgrade to Windows 95 in my humble opinion (IMHO).
Win95 is not perfect, but it is much much better at managing hardware
resources correctly. It's almost miraculous in it's ability to handle
the myriad different devices that can be hooked up to a PC. (As much as
I hate to say good things about a Microsoft product.) You do pay a price
in boot speed, but I think it's worth it.
Software issues What does the error message say? If there
is no error message, then:
A list of things to check for speed
Most of these tips are for MS Windows for Workgroups problems.
Check the CMOS Setup: Do not alter anything in
the CMOS unless you know what you are doing! To enter CMOS setup:
- AMI BIOS (Press Del key during boot phase)
- Pheonix BIOS (Press Crtl-Alt-Del keys while in DOS)
- Award BIOS ( I don't know this one.)
- If these combinations don't work and you don't have the manuals
available; look on the BIOS, Motherboard, or system manufacturers WWW site.
- Check that the machine is not running in 8MHz compatibility mode.
- Check to see if there are settings for memory timing. If there are,
do the number of wait states look reasonable?
- Is Shadow BIOS enabled?
- Is the hardware all there, configured properly, and working?
Benchmark/check the hardware with a DOS based program.
- How much RAM is there and how is it being used? Run a DOS memory
checker such as Mem/c. 4MB is too small for WFW, try 8MB or 16MB.
- Is the hard disk and its files OK? Run scandisk.
- Is the hard disk badly fragmented? Run a disk defragmenter.
- Check the Autoexec and Config.sys files for oddities. Is the path
variable short? Closely monitor the boot sequence for errors.
- What amount of free memory is available in DOS?
Wintune 2.0 from Windows Magazine.
- Run PC Tools System Consultant.
- Is Smartdisk disk caching enabled?
- If you are running Windows 3.1x, or Windows for Workgroups 3.11, is
the machine configured with a 32 bit disk access driver? 32 bit file
access? Check the Virtual memory setting with the 386 Enhanced applet
in the control panel.
- What other programs are running?
- Windows 95
Search Microsoft' Knowledge Base
Wintune 97 for Windows 95
- What other programs are running? Type the Ctrl-Alt-Del key
combination ONE TIME and the "Task Manager" will
come up allowing you to view all running programs/tasks and end them.
Do not "end" the "Explorer" or "SysTray" tasks.
- DirectX issues. If you have installed a game, you may have
encountered a problem due to DirectX. ( I've had a DirectX install
cause a computer to fail to boot.) Here are a few other sites with
good help on the subject.
- Windows NT
A list of usefull and informative sites.
Then there is always the World Wide Web
and its Search Engines
Ultimately, when in doubt search the World Wide Web!
- AltaVista is my
favorite at the moment, but others (Yahoo, Lycos, WebCrawler) are good
too. Here is a quick gateway into the AltaVista search engine.