Use Media Center To Watch TV

With the improvements in Windows Media Center, starting with Vista and fully realized with Windows 7, it is easier than ever to watch ‘live’ TV (from antennae, cable or satellite) and also watch ‘on demand’ Internet TV.

You can also very easily use Media Center as a PVR (personal video recorder) much like TiVo or your cable company’s PVR. If you already have a PVR or cable on your main television you can always use Media Center to add another viewing room. Or you can go all the way and create a complete Media Center PC to replace your PVR, output to your high def TV and to an audio receiver for a full home entertainment system.

I have been using ‘TV Cards’ in my systems since 1997 to watch and record live TV from my PCs. I actually still do. I utilize dual monitors for increased productivity and when I am able, I’ll watch TV up in one corner of one monitor while working. Sort of like a ‘white noise’ or radio while I work. Or, since I have my systems in my bedroom I can watch TV full screen on my larger monitor from my bed.

With Windows 7 it is now SO EASY to set up, watch, and record if you desire, television that it seems silly not to.

To watch ‘live’ television you have to have some sort of TV tuner card. I recommend the Hauppauge line of tuners. Or the ATI TV Cards or their All-In-Wonder Combo cards. I have at least two versions of each card in 4 different machines and I can tell you they are great. If you system is new and has a high powered graphics card already you may want to go with a TV card only. Most new TV cards also come with remote controls! If your system is older, you may wish to use a ‘combo’ card (like the ATI). For Internet TV you do not have to have a TV card.

I was going to put up some detailed walkthroughs but there are already so many great ones available I thought I’d just post up the links. All of them have great simple explanations, some have good video tutorials and other very good screen captures and descriptions.
Everyone is excellent and worth fully investigating if you have even the slightest desire to use Media Center to it’s full potential. I like to help people utilize technology to be more productive, have more enjoyment and use it to it’s full potential. I hope this helps some who are always asking me about this.

So here are some great links, take them for what they’re worth:
http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-media-center/what-is-it/default.aspx

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-media-center/learn-more/internet-tv/default.aspx

The HowToGeek site has some great ones too!:
http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/9166/learning-windows-7-setup-live-tv-in-windows-media-center/

http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/9376/learning-windows-7-watch-tv-programming-without-a-tv-tuner/

Cloud Storage Tools and Tips

Google’s new feature, announced earlier this month, has gone live. It gives everyone with Google Docs [if you have Gmail you have Google Docs] a 1GB space to store, and share, files of any kind, with the ability to share folders, this can easily be used to share any kind of media. This is very easy to use.
Here’s a look at how it works.

There is also a service offered by Microsoft for users of their Hotmail and Live services called SkyDrive which lets you share files and folders.
Microsoft increased the free online storage limit for their Skydrive “storage in the cloud” to 25gb.
The individual file size limit is 50mb! Looks great for those larger files. Plus you could also ‘zip up’ larger files to pieces smaller than the 50mb limit.
I like SkyDrive for putting up to the web utilities and documents for me and those I support. By creating folders and protecting them by providing different ‘networks’ that individuals can access, I am able to who sees and gets what. Much like an FTP but it’s not my server and I don’t have to do some massive training for the less technically inclined.

Neither of these two services are  ‘live synchronization’ programs like Dropbox, LiveSync or LiveMesh.

I think if more people new about and also how to use LiveMesh, they would. And they would start now.
It is like Dropbox on steroids! I know there are people who love Dropbox, but have always felt it was way too limited for me.

LiveMesh can be used on Windows and OS-X.
I am a new convert to LiveMesh. With LiveMesh you can have your files easily synchronized between a large number of devices, including phones, AND online in the cloud providing a backup.
Plus you can also use LiveMesh as a remote access tool too! It provides for a ‘virtual desktop’ a’la Windows Remote Desktop.
Here is a very good walk through. It is long but well worth watching the entire thing.

With tools like these there is really no reason you should not be ‘without’ important files or documents no matter where in the world you are.
Which ever you use, and you should use at least one of them, you will be secure in knowing your files are ‘backed up’ and available at any time.

[For the more geekier folk, like myself, who have multiple Hotmail and Live accounts, you can configure some ‘super tricky’ file synchronization. It just requires ‘signing on and off to different ‘Live’service accounts in the ‘Mesh’ task manager. But be carefull to keep your main account logged in most of the time so your important files are kept up to date.]

Here we go again – Spyware and bogus Antivirus

Folks,
I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your Operating system patched, up to date and running the latest versions of available applications – especially web browsers!
Several new threats are emerging that are taking advantage of the fact the people are running outdated and un-patched software. Some of the latest hacks have involved un-patched Adobe Acrobat and old un-patched web browsers – IE 6 and Safari. There is no reason to NOT have the latest web browsers and have them patched. I run Firefox primarily myself, as I have mentioned, but always keep all of my browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome and Opera up to date)

As I have said before never, never and never..
Download supposed toolbars or video player or helpers…that a site says are ‘required’ to…whatever..
These are nearly always ‘trojanware’.
If you need to ‘install’ a special toolbar to ‘play games’ or ‘view a file’ or what ever you can be assured that someone is using that download to ‘view/own’ your system.
Are those ‘smileys’ worth having your entire system compromised or corrupted? I don’t think so.
If you use P2P software Limewire, Gnutella, KaZaA, Napster, BearShare, MySpace, torrents or even some Facebook ‘Apps’ you can expect, repeat EXPECT, to get infected by malicious software! There is no such thing as free ‘premium’ software. If software that normally cost from a vendor somewhere else is ‘found’ for free, you can expect you’ll get what you pay for. We don’t get it in the ‘real’ world why do people continue to believe that it will occur in the cyber world?
Here is an article on some people tricked by the old ‘social engineering’ scam to do just that.
Here is a good article on ‘Scareware’ – essentially it is a ‘social engineering’ tick to get you to install actual spyware/trojanware!
People are hit with this from many sites all the time, and end up screwing themselves to the stoneage.
Please take the time to read this information and how to protect yourself.

The one thing this article doesn’t really explain is how to ‘get out’ of the pop-up hell.
It is simple.
1st.

DO NOT CLICK ON ANY POPUP

WARNING WINDOW TRYING TO

CLOSE/EXIT!!!.
This will infect you!

Press the Ctrl+Shift+Esc keys at the same time (all on the left hand side of the keyboard).
This will bring up the ‘Windows Task Manager’ see attached screen capture.

From here click on the Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox running ‘Task(s)’ and then click on ‘End Task’. It is wise to End Task ALL of them.

This kind of ploy gets MANY users!
I just the week have had three – count them 3 different people get caught by these methods!!
After closing the pop ups via the task manager run CCleaner BEFORE you open any browser again. If you have followed my previous advice you already have this installed and run it everytime you close your browser.
Please re-read these posts for more information on protecting yourself from malicious software.

Here

And Here

 

Super Windows remote support tools

When doing tech support I often find it is nearly impossible to figure out what people are trying to explain is ‘happening’ with their system and what real problems they are actually having.
Trying to solve technical problems over the phone or via a back and forth chat or email is like trying to give a haircut over the phone. To properly diagnose and resolve an issue I have to be ‘there’ sitting in front of and interacting with their system to actually solve the problem.
Here are some of the solutions I use.

I am a huge fan of LogMeIn for users that I frequently need to access their systems.
[Read family and close friends.]
I have a few paid pro accounts for my personal and business use and lots of free ones (under family and friends email/login credentials) for continuing ongoing occasional support. I can’t say enough about the quality of the LogMeIn service. It is superb. It lets me access my PCs and Macs anywhere – even from my phone!
Becuase of the Mac support from the same interface I find this tool to be the best I’ve used.
It has proved worth the subscription cost hundreds of times over.

For others that I won’t need always on or ongoing access I use TeamViewer. For ‘one off’ logins it is simple fast and easy.
I simply have the end users download the TeamViewerQS component and I can access their systems quickly.

Another method is to have the user use one of the following tools and ‘show me’ what they are talking about and what exactly they are doing by providing me with a ‘recorded session’ of their actions and the problems.

The newest and so far easiest to use is Windows 7’s built in tool.
Called “Problem Step Recorder”. Just type “psr” into the win 7 start menu, and you will find it. It too works very well.
PSR works like a camcorder to capture a user’s mouse movements and keystrokes into a file that can be played back later for problem analysis.  This helps me to recreate or ‘see’ the problem situations.
Here is a great walk through of how to use it from the Winhelponline blog

But what can people who run XP or Vista do?  There’s no built-in feature to do the PSR work, but there is a free download available on TechNet that does the same thing. It’s called “Screenrecorder” and is a very easy-to-use screen-to-video capture program, developed on top of Windows Media Encoder, that lets you easily capture what is going on to a small video file, which you can then send via e-mail to the appropriate person.
The TechNet description is here.
The actual download is here.
And finally I just learned of a new application that may do the same thing as the PSR and Screenrecorder but is even simpler to use. It’s called “Show Me Whats Wrong”.
Sounds really cool and I am sure to try it soon. Have a look.
Video demonstration is here.
And the site is here.

Windows 7 ‘God Mode’

This is a really cool hack.
It seems to work in all versions of Windows 7.

“GodMode” feature lets users access all of the operating system’s control panels from within a single folder.

By creating a new folder in Windows 7 and renaming it with a certain text string at the end, users are able to have a single place to do everything from changing the look of the mouse pointer to making a new hard-drive partition.

To enter “GodMode,” one need only create a new folder (anywhere, but desktop makes most sense) and then rename the folder to the following [for assured results copy this – from the ‘G’ to the last’}’ ]:

GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

Once that is done, the folder’s icon will change to resemble a control panel and will contain dozens of control options. It is a handy way to get to all kinds of controls.

This also works in Windows Vista 32bit too but not Vista 64bit.

How to create a bootable upgrade or installation USB thumb drive to install Windows 7

Before you begin, you will require the following:

  • USB Flash Drive (4GB minimum)
  • Windows 7 ISO Image file (or DVD as explained in how to create ISO section)
  • Reading all of my notes completely as things change if you are doing an upgrade vs. new installation. (see the upgrade section for important info.)
  • You must be careful when using any tool that formats drives – you could toast your current operating system if you are not careful!! I take no responsibility for your lack of attention to detail or inability to read and FOLLOW ALL of these instructions!

The VERY easy ways first!
Method one:
Use the Windows 7 USB/DVD tool!
You will need and ISO image of Windows 7.
Installation:
To install the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download tool:
1. Download the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download tool installation file.
2. When you are prompted to, either save the file to disk or run it, choose Run.
3. Follow the steps in the setup dialogs. You’ll have the option to specify where to install the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download tool and whether to create shortcuts on your Start Menu or Windows Desktop.
[You need to be an administrator on the computer you are installing the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download tool on.]
Launch the tool, navigate to your ISO file (usually purchased directly through Microsoft store or created by you – see the creating and ISO section), and walk through the wizard.
(Note you can use this tool with Windows Vista ISO too to create a Vista USB install)
That’s it.
The wizard lets you select your source ISO file (Win 7 install), it formats your USB drive/stick, and then copies all your files over and makes that USB drive/stick bootable.

Once you have created your ‘bootable USB Thumb drive you are ready to install.

To do that, reboot your computer.
Now while your system is starting up press the appropriate button (usually F1, F2, F12, ESC, Backspace, or Escape) to bring up Bios Boot Menu.
Change the startup order to boot USB by default. Once done, save changes and restart the system.
On some systems (like Dell) you can just press F12 for a ‘select boot’ option too – very easy.
The install (or upgrade to) your new operating system.
 
For Windows XP Users
The following applications must be installed prior to installing the tool:
* Microsoft .NET Framework v2 must be installed. It can be downloaded here.
* Microsoft Image Mastering API v2 must be installed. It can be downloaded here.

Once the USB is created, by any method describe here, search for and delete the file named ‘ei.cfg’. This is usually located in the ‘\sources\’ directory.

Doing this step is what makes the USB memory stick allow you to install any version of Windows 7 as it no longer has a default version configured.

[Warning: This procedure will allow you to install a copy of Windows 7 that you may not be licensed to have. Therefore you need to be very careful to only select a version that you have a licensed key for as you will not be able activate Windows without valid a key!]

Method Two:
This is much like method one just using an open source tool.
Use the UNetbootin (Universal Netboot Installer) tool found here.
Insert the USB drive, run UNetbootin, and select Disk Image as ISO. Browse your local drive for Windows 7 ISO that you downloaded and click Open. Now Select Type as USB and choose the drive. Once done, it will look like a bit similar to the screenshot shown below.
clip_image002
Click OK and it will begin extracting all installation files to the USB drive. The whole process will take some time, so have patience.

clip_image004
 Follow same method as above to boot to the USB drive.

 How to create ISO:
If you have a CD or DVD and not an ISO you can try and create and ISO from your DVD using one of these Freeware tools:
LC ISO Creator creates ISO files from CD/DVD-ROM.
clip_image005download (LCISOCreator.zip – 14 kB)
ImageBurn
ImgBurn is a lightweight CD / DVD / HD DVD / Blu-ray burning application that everyone should have in their toolkit!
Get ImgBurn here

About upgrading to Windows 7:
This section was taken from here.

When doing an upgrade MS limits you to what ‘type or flavor’ of the OS you can upgrade to.
Example; Vista Home Premium can only be upgraded to Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 RC(and therefore ‘Ultimate’) can only go to Windows 7 Ultimate etc.
BUT HERE IS THE GREAT PART!
That is not entirely true!
You can upgrade to a different version with a simple registry adjustment.
Open a command prompt on your Vista or (Windows 7 Release Candidate) machine and type in:
Regedit
Navigate to HKLM(HKEY_Local_Machine)Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\ CurrentVersion
Change EditionID on the reg key from “Ultimate” to “[youreditionhere]”
and
Change ProductName on the reg key from Windows 7 Ultimate to “Windows 7 [youreditionhere]”
(minus the quotes of course)
Example:
EdittionID Professional
ProductName Windows 7 Professional
Close the registry editor, restart and do your install.

I have used this registry trick to upgrade some corporate Netbooks that came with Windows 7 Starter to Volume Licensed versions of Window 7 Enterprise.


Method Three – the hard(er) way:

Creating bootable Windows 7 USB install using Vista and Windows 7 installation DVD:
Step 1. Insert the Windows 7 DVD into your computer and the USB memory stick into your computer
Step 2. Open a “Command Prompt” and run “DISKPART”.
clip_image007
This will launch the diskpart utility in a separate window and perform a UAC prompt (allow access)
Step 3. Type “LIST DISK” and take note what the disk number is of the USB memory stick. This will be the same size as the USB memory stick (eg. 3824 MB = 4 GB).
clip_image009
Step 4. Then type “SELECT DISK X” where X is the disk number of the USB memory stick.clip_image011
Step 5. Type “CLEAN”. Warning – This will wipe all data from the USB memory stick.
clip_image013
Step 6. Type “CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY”
clip_image015
Step 7. Type “SELECT PARTITION 1”
clip_image017
Step 8. Type “ACTIVE”
clip_image019
Step 9. Type “FORMAT FS=FAT32” (and wait about 5 minutes depending on the size and speed of the USB memory stick)
clip_image021
Step 10. Type “ASSIGN”.
clip_image023
You will notice the auto play window now appears. Take note of the drive letter (e.g. F:\ ) and close this window.
clip_image025
Step 11. Type “EXIT”
Step 12. Back at the command prompt type “xcopy d:*.* /s/e/f F:” where D: is the drive letter of you DVD and F: is the drive letter of your USB Memory stick.
clip_image027
Don’t worry if it takes a long time to copy boot.wim and install.wim as these are the two largest files on the DVD.
clip_image029
Step 13. Once the xcopy is finished  run “del F:\sources\ei.cfg” from the command prompt and you Windows 7 Bootable USB memory stick is ready to go. Doing this step is what makes the USB memory stick allow you to install any version of Windows 7 as it no longer has a default version configured.
clip_image031
You can now either boot from the USB memory stick or just run setup.exe from the drive to start the install process. Either way you will now prompted for the version of Windows 7 you want to install.
clip_image033