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Microsoft Recommended Services Software Windows

Read these articles from Windows Secrets for tips on malware cleaners

ms_antimalware_tools_chart
Picture courtesy of Fred Langa/Windows Secrets

 

Microsoft’s six free desktop security tools

A dozen tools for removing almost any malware

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Microsoft Recommended Services Services

Hotmail.com to become Outlook.com – switch now!

I’ll just say it: I love the new design for Microsoft’s online email service! It’s clean, simple and effective.

Outlook.com is the successor to Hotmail.com which it eventually will replace. Summer 2012 Microsoft made Outlook.com available as a preview.

If you go to outlook.com and log in with your @hotmail.com, @live.com, msn@com (and so on), you automatically get the new design (you can switch back to Hotmail if you so choose).

You can also rename your account (move it over) to @outlook.com or make an alias.

Warning: Renaming can cause problems with other Microsoft products and services. Especially if you use Windows Phone: You’ll have to do a factory reset, causing you to loose all your data.

Resembling the well known Outlook client (part of Microsoft Office for years), you get your inbox and other folders to he left, your message list in the middle and the contents itself to the right. The so called message preview can  be placed at the bottom or turned off completely.

Drag and drop is supported, so you can easily add attachments when you compose a new mail or drag emails to folders. Right-click a folder or message for more options and even use keyboard shortcuts (i.e. Control + Enter to send). You can connect to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, which will show info from these networks for your contacts also on these networks. You can also connect to other online email services like Gmail and Yahoo and either import your contacts and messages or simply make Outlook.com your universal inbox for all these services.

Most of these features were also present in Hotmail.com, but are more prominent in Outlook.com and thus easier to find or figure out.

Read more at the official Outlook Preview site, which also include a video.

Also be sure to follow the Outlook Blog for updates.

Microsoft’s other services will also be updated with this new look. Actually, SkyDrive already has (together with the Office Web Apps).

All in all I highly recommend you do the switch today if you use Hotmail already.

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Noteworthy Recommended Services

Learn the basics of programming with Codecademy

If you want to learn the basics of programming, or just need a refresher course, visit codecademy.com and take a course directly in your browser.

You can earn points and badges if you register.

At the time of this writing, there’s only one course: Getting started with programming. According to the website, more courses will be added in the future, and you’re welcome to contribute.

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Microsoft Recommended Services Software Software Update Tips and Tricks Websites Windows

How to keep your system (Windows/software/drivers) up-to-date

I think it’s safe to say that almost all computers used in homes today are connected to the Internet and have a decent amount of programs installed. And that makes keeping your computer up-to-date an important task. Why? Because each day a new security hole, exploit or other errors are found and being fixed. Or a program can get new features or bugfixes.

Fortunately, Windows and other popular software can be set up to update itself. E.g. Windows 7 can be set up to run Windows Update and install important and critically updates automatically.

Also check out my post WSUS Offline Update – Update Windows without Internet.

Another example is Mozilla Firefox, a popular browser, that once in a while pops up a window asking you to update it. Google has taken it a step longer with their browser Chrome, just updating it in the background without user intervention. Talking about browsers, plugins are just as important to update. Flash and Java are two of the most used plugins and therefore prone to attacks. You don’t want these to be out-of-date, so do a plugin check at Mozilla. Google has actually integrated Flash directly in Chrome, so it gets updated automatically when the browser gets updated.

Some software doesn’t update automatically, but tells you when an update is available. And some software doesn’t notify you at all, making you doing the dirty work. Looking for updates, downloading and updating each of these can be difficult and tedious. That’s were software updaters come in handy!

My favorite is FileHippo Update Checker. This little utility can be installed as a regular program, notifying you when updates for your installed programs are available. I find it rather “noisy”, so I prefer the standalone (portable) version. Just run the program, it does a scan and presents you with a webpage with direct downloads.

If you want a more detailed summary, you might want to try out Secunia Personal Software Inspector. It does a more thorough scan, and is supposed to support automatic updating of installed programs.

More screenshots.

Both programs mentioned above are discussed together with others at Gizmo’s Freeware.

That covers Windows and software, but what about drivers? Drivers are an important part of a working computer. An easy explanation of a driver, is software that makes Windows “talk” to you hardware. In the Windows XP era, finding the right driver and updating it was hard. Since Windows Vista, Microsoft has done a great job with drivers, including them directly on the setup DVD and offering them through Windows Update. I you choose the recommended settings during Windows 7 setup, most (if not all) of your hardware will be recognized and drivers gets installed automatically. Either during setup or afterwards through Windows Update.

This solution requires a working Internet connection of course, which depends on your network card getting installed during setup. As a safety net, be sure to download its driver from your computer or motherboard manufacturer beforehand.

If you want a program to do all the work, I can recommend Driver Magician. I got mine for free via Giveaway of the Day. They have given this away the last three years.

A free alternative is DriverEasy. A combined web-service and software is the French site My-Config.com.

If you’re an enthusiast like me, you always want the latest software and drivers, even if they’re beta (unfinished, made available for testing). Computer manufacturers seem to forget about your hardware as soon as they release a newer system. That’s why I recommend you go straight to the source. E.g. if you have an Intel system, download your chipset and SATA drivers from Intel’s website. Likewise for AMD systems. If you have a graphics card from nVidia or ATI/AMD, you’ll usually get a better experience using their drivers. You will often lose customization done by your computer manufacturer, but personally I think that’s a small price to pay. Until recently, laptop users weren’t allowed to use the drivers released directly from AMD or nVidia. That’s why sites like Laptop Video 2 Go and Omega Drivers exists.

Windows Vista introduced a new driver model, which continues with Windows 7. In Windows XP, you have to manually specify the exact folder which contains the (updated) driver. In Vista/7, you can put all your drivers in one folder, and just point to it. The operating system will take care of the rest, choosing the best (most compatible) driver and install it for you. But what if you can’t find a suitable driver? What if you don’t know what that “unknown hardware” is in Device Manager?

Thats were Unknown Device Identifier steps in. It will help you identify the hardware, making it easier to find a driver.

As I mentioned, Windows XP doesn’t make it easy to update drivers. And being over ten years old, it seldom has drivers included for current hardware. As always, Internet has a solution. DriverPacks.net is a project trying to gather most used drivers in one place. Drivers are packed together in compressed files, sorted in categories like chipset, sound, graphics e.t.c. The project started out as a way to integrate drivers into the Windows XP setup. Newer SATA hard drives won’t be recognized by Windows XP setup and a driver needs to be loaded from a floppy. The floppy has been dead for years, hence integrating drivers. By downloading and running DriverPacks BASE, you can integrate all the driverpacks into Windows XP with the push of a few buttons! DP BASE can download/update driverpacks, integrate them into Windows XP setup or make a Standalone Disc which you can use to update drivers on an existing installation.

DriverPacks.net contains a list for Vista (can be used for Windows 7 also due to same driver model). What I usually do, is to download the packs, unzip them (7-zip is a good alternative) and then use Device Manager to update my components. You do this by right-clicking a device in the list and choose Update Driver Software…, next Browse my computer for driver software and lastly point it to the correct folder. Be sure to check the box that includes subfolders.

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Recommended Services

Spotify – stream music everywhere

Spotify has been updated to version 0.4.3. (April 27 2010) It’s the biggest update since they launched late 2008. Some of the new features includes the ability to add (both play and sync) local files, Facebook integration, starring of your favorite tracks (to comply with the mobile version). You can see my public Spotify profile here. Read all the details on Spotify’s Blog.

Spotify is a Swedish company offering a huge collection of music through streaming. There is both a free and a paid version of the service. The free version will display ads in the software and also play ads between tracks on a regular basis.

The paid version is called Spotify Premium and costs 99NOK a month. It has several advantages over the free one:

Remember to change the quality setting in preferences, as this does not happen automatically.

Spotify Premium gives you access to use Spotify Mobile (currently works on the iPhone/iPod Touch, Android and Symbian). It synchronizes your playlists instantly, as shown in the video below. You can also mark individual playlists for offline mode. They will then be downloaded to your device over wifi. A must for users without a dataplan! You can have as much as 3333 tracks in offline mode.

Spotify is currently available in Sweden, Norway, Finland, the UK, France and Spain. The free version is by invitation only, meaning that you have to get an invite from a Premium user. If you leave your email in the comments (in the mail field, will not be published) I will give away invites as long as I have.

Fun fact: Spotify is a combination of the words ‘spot’ and ‘identify’.