Windows 8.1 is a huge improvement over Windows 8. Once you've spent any time in the preview (or one of the leaked builds) you'll find it impossible to go back to the obviously half-baked original.
But the default setup still has some annoyances that get in the way and prevent you from just booting up your PC and using Windows. For starters there's the lock screen to get through -- a delaying stage which serves little purpose in a home environment. Then you have to enter your password and log to in your Microsoft account, and finally, once you've cleared those steps, there's the Modern UI to go through on your way to the desktop. Fortunately you can configure Windows 8.1 to skip all of that nonsense.
If you regularly help to troubleshoot PC problems for friends and family then you’ll know that understanding their system setup is a good place to start. This can be a challenge, though, particularly if they’re far away and you can’t get to visit the computer in question.
You could try to get around this by asking the system owner to run particular applets -- Device Manager, say -- and report on what they see. But that will also take a while, so it might be easier for them to install a single tool which can assemble a detailed report on their entire PC setup. And that’s precisely what you’ll get with RegRun Reanimator.
I use Soluto to manage my PCs and iOS devices, as well as hardware belonging to a select group of less technically literate friends and family. It’s a handy service that makes it easy to view hardware details of the devices you’re monitoring, as well as cut boot times, manage and update apps, remove unwanted browser extensions, and more.
The firm has just introduced a new feature called Soluto for Servers which adds Windows servers to the list of devices available to manage. You just need to download an installer and run it on each of your servers.
If a friend asks you to help troubleshoot his or her PC problems then it’s often useful to check their hard drive to see exactly what’s installed and where. But if they don't live nearby, and there’s no convenient screen sharing or remote access technology to hand, then don’t worry: there’s always Snap2HTML.
Point this tiny program (a 185KB download) at any location on the hard drive, click "Create Snapshot", and it’ll quickly scan the system, recording any files or folders it contains in a ready-to-email (after zipping, at least), self-contained HTML report.
Whether you’ve been overclocking your PC, are worried about a specific device, or just wondering why your system has been so unstable recently, getting a better understanding of your computer’s inner workings can be very useful. And grabbing a copy of the Open Hardware Monitor is a great place to start.
The program is free, open source, and surprisingly easy to use. Unzip and launch it, and a simple tree view immediately displays temperatures, fan speeds, voltages, CPU load and more.
I love free software but I’m not a huge fan of all the junk that often gets bundled with programs -- toolbars and the like -- or the changes that the software sometimes wants or tries to make to my search provider. The order, as far as I’m concerned, should always go like this -- Google first, Bing second, Ask never. But so long as the extras are clearly labeled, can be deselected without problem, and easily uninstalled afterwards if I accidentally miss one, I don’t have a real issue with this bundling. It provides a way to get the software for free and funds future development.
However, I’m a savvy computer user and as part of my job I install and uninstall a lot of free software, so I know what to look out for. For the less technically astute, it’s easy to get caught out and end up installing a lot of crap you don’t want. Which takes me to the point of this article -- Oracle and the Ask Toolbar.
TrueCrypt is an excellent encryption tool, a very good choice for anyone who wants to protect their most confidential files. If you use its ability to save your documents in hidden containers, though, it’s worth keeping in mind that these aren’t quite as secret as you might think: TCHunt, a free Windows tool, can identify (though not decrypt) them in just a few seconds.
The program comes in the form of a compact (244KB) executable, with no extras and no installation required; you can just download and run it.
From experts to novices, most PC users benefit from launching a command line session occasionally. This is one area of Windows which hasn’t changed significantly in years, of course, but if you’re tired of its various annoyances there are steps you can take to improve the situation. And clink could be a great place to start.
This open source program installs quickly and easily. The only setup option to consider is whether you want the program to launch when you run a command line session; we’d recommend you allow this, as it keeps the process very straightforward. Open a command window immediately afterwards and you should see new copyright messages for clink its other components (see the grab), a useful indicator that everything is working.
Auslogics Software has updated its flagship PC maintenance and optimization suite with the release of Auslogics BoostSpeed 6.0.
Launch the program for the first time and it now runs an immediate system scan, before displaying the results of this -- disk space which can be freed, computer speed and stability interface -- as "System Health" indicators in the main BoostSpeed window.
Microsoft still wants everyone to use and love the Modern UI, but it accepts, finally, that a large portion of users aren’t interested in apps and the tiled interface. So it’s given desktop users the option to skip the Start screen on boot up, but then tucked it away, along with a bunch of other useful customization options.
If you want to have your own wallpaper displayed on the Start screen, or have Windows 8.1 show the Apps view when you hit the Windows key (or click the new Start button), that’s easily arranged at the same time.
Piriform has updated its free Windows cleaning tool with the release of CCleaner 4.03. The new build, also available in portable form, concentrates its improvements on the four major browsers: Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Opera.
Version 4.03 also improves cleaning for Office 2013 users, extends support to five new programs (including three Windows 8 apps) and also promises new and improved features for paid-for Pro users too.
Malwarebytes has released the first public beta of Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit, a rebranded and improved version of ZeroVulnerabilityLabs’ ExploitShield. And just as in its previous incarnation, Anti-Exploit is an extremely easy-to-use tool which protects popular applications from zero-day exploits, web-based vulnerability exploits and more.
The full list of shielded apps includes browsers (Firefox, Chrome, IE, Opera), Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), Media Players (Windows Media Player, VLC, Winamp, QuickTime), PDF-related tools (Adobe Reader, Foxit Reader, Adobe Acrobat) and more (Java, Windows Script Host, Windows Help).
When Windows is misbehaving then a quick look at Task Manager will sometimes help. It might show you a program which is using too much RAM or CPU time, for instance, as well as allowing you to terminate the problem process and restore order.
Most of the time, though, Task Manager just won’t have what it takes to help you troubleshoot your system. You’ll need a more capable third-party tool to take you a little further. And they don’t come much more capable than the portable PowerTool.
Plymouth, MI software developer Stardock Software has released WindowBlinds 8, a new version of its skinning application for radically customizing the Windows desktop. Version 8 extends support to Windows 8, but drops support for Vista and XP in the process.
Version 8 also debuts an all-new interface, while those who pay for the full version will get a complimentary copy of SkinStudio, Stardock’s skin-editing app, for free.