MSN Toolbar Suite…

…is it’s official name but it includes MSN Desktop Search, Microsoft’s entry into the desktop search market. First impressions were very good. It quickly indexed (my recently formatted) drives and allowed me to content search Office App files, Outlook mail, Text files and also title search all files including music and pictures. Results returned were quick and accurate. It also worked across a network. Great – as fast as Google desktop with a lot more content. Annoyingly you also had to install the MSN Toolbar at the same time which meant IE and Control Panel etc. had a MSN search bar – once installed you can remove.

However after a reboot it stopped working. Only logging in as administrator allowed the desktop search to work – anything else failed. So it’s uninstalled but one to keep an eye on. MS have created a Wiki to track developments.

Re-installing XP

The new PC (who am I kidding – it’s 6 months old and out of date) was struggling with Windows. Seemed to have a lag at the start where no matter what program I selected it would wait for a couple of minutes before launching. After that it was fine. Shutdown also had the odd blue screen. I spent the last 2 or 3 weeks trying to find the problem but gave in at the weekend and formatted it again.

I’ve always been against re-installing everything every 6 months or so but the results have been dramatic. No startup lag, no shutdown problems and I’ve got most of the programs I use re-installed. Only snag was that I forgot a couple of things before formatting. I had an electronic download of Half-Life 2 via Steam. 3 gig download later and it was sorted (apart from the game save – swine). Also, I was sure I had moved my Outlook folder to My Documents (which is backed up and on a separate drive). Nope – looks like I hadn’t. SWINE. I still don’t understand why something like Outlook keeps the main pst file outside My Documents but that’s an excuse really for my fools rush in attitude. Got all important e-mails re-sent though so nothing lost. One utility that is a nice find is Startup Control Panel. It’s a small download and install which allows you to easily control what will be automatically started the next time XP boots. Accessible via Control Panel it’s and essential app.

So I thoroughly recommend that you do a proper (format the drive and re-install) refresh of Windows and applications at least once a year. Also – sort out a good backup regime. I’m trialling Norton Ghost with a main backup and incremental’s (weekly) onto my old pc. So far so good. End of public service announcement.


I used to love Paint Shop Pro. Around version 7 though it started to bloat beyond belief. All I wanted was a quick to load image viewer in which I could easily resize/resample images to a variety of different formats. Ta-ra – IrfanView. Loads instantly, works quickly, can be a bit quirky but apart from that it’s great. It’s now my must have graphics package.

Spread Firefox

Looks like the browser wars are back. Spread Firefox has been launched to promote the Firefox 1.0 preview release. Even the previous owner of the domain has handed it over. Using Firefox is a joy compared to Internet Explorer, but I can’t see them overhauling IE. It really is only the geeks and the tech-savvy that are using Firefox at the moment – it will be a while before the average user downloads Firefox and understands the difference.


Adobe Acrobat seems slow to start-up nowadays. Loads of plugins are getting in the way of easily viewing pdf’s. Thats where Arsu comes in….or Adobe Reader Speed Up. Download from here and run – I’ve got reader starting up in no time at all now. It cleany removes some of the plugins that aren’t really required for day to day viewing.

Service Pack 2

Downloaded and installed Windows Service Pack 2 last night. This is the much trumpeted update to Windows XP which should make the OS much more secure than it currently is and also explain to the masses just how vulnerable their machines are to virus and trojan attacks. A hefty 260Mb download and half an hour install time later and the service pack was installed.

On rebooting, before Windows was fully loaded an option screen encouraged you to ensure Automatic Window Updates were selected. Once past that screen XP loaded as normal. What was noticeable straightaway was the length of time XP took to get up and running. Slow as a dog. When it eventually loaded (3 mins against 30 seconds) there was a new icon in the sys tray – a red shield. This was the Security Centre telling me my machine was vulnerable. On opening it up fully it said I was fully firewalled as the new XP firewall is enabled by default. It also said my Windows Updates were good as they were set to automatic. However anti-virus was amber as Nortons was running but the software couldn’t detect if it was active or not. Doh. Disabling the windows firewall set that option to red also. But I’ve got a hardware firewall – no need for software. So Security Centre would also say I was open to attack as I didn’t have a software firewall. Nice.

I tried a reboot to see if the startup was any faster. It wasn’t. A quick trip to the services panel and Security Centre was disabled. One reboot later and the speed was back. On talking to others they haven’t seen an issue with speed so maybe it was another setting or bit of software slowing things down but I didn’t need a bit of software telling me I wasn’t secure when I was. However it’s a good tool for the great unwashed who don’t have a foggy about the nasties that can harm their machines. Pity the Security Centre didn’t nag the user into doing backups though – far more useful especially with the increase in DVD writers.

Other updates include improved support for Bluetooth (worked a treat with the T610) and Wireless networks and also some updates for Internet Explorer. Pop-ups blocked and an add-in manager to see what has attached itself to IE. Also mail will no longer download images by default and there’s a few other security related fixes. Windows Update is now at version 5 (seemingly doesn’t work with known dodgy keys used in non pucker copies of XP) and annoyingly it will also install Windows Messenger. To remove it follow the instructions here.

Finally there seems to be a lot of new drivers and compiled XP code. Certainly feels slightly more spritely in use. So a worthy update – just don’t believe the hype around Security Centre.


Why oh why does the BBC insist on using Real formats for their video and audio. Real make the shabbiest software known to man. After installing Realplayer to access BBC radio my pc took an age to load. At the time I didn’t know if it was the Real software or something else as I had installed a fair wee bit. The pc was slow during ‘Loading your personal settings’ but I couldn’t tell what bit of software was slow. Cue golden tip:

Show Verbose Security Status Messages (Windows 2000/XP) This setting allows you to configure Windows so that you receive verbose startup, shutdown, logon, and logoff status messages. This may be helpful to in troubleshooting slow startup, shutdown, logon, or logoff behaviour. Open your registry and find or create this key:- HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWARE -> Microsoft -> Windows -> CurrentVersion -> Policies -> System To enable verbose status messages create a new DWORD value called “verbosestatus” and set it to “1”. (verbosestatus REG_DWORD 0x00000001 (1)) An additional value called “DisableStatusMessages” forces status messages to be disabled, make sure this value does not exist or is set to “0”. (DisableStatusMessages REG_DWORD 0x00000000 (0)) Restart Windows for the change to take effect.

*Update – after taking advice from my IT industry colleagues I should point out that before changing anything in the registry back it up and if you don’t know what the registry or regedit is then do what you do with most of this site and ignore this post.