Creating a System Image
The first thing that you’ll want to do is create a System Image from within Windows 7’s Backup and Restore. When you do, you’ll end up with a complete image of your hard disk. That way, if anything out of the ordinary were to occur as you follow the steps for creating a dual-boot system, you will be able to return to your current configuration. Furthermore, I recommend that you also create a separate backup of your data. Maybe just make copies of all your data files on CD/DVD or on an external hard disk. While it may sound like overkill, having an extra backup will give you peace of mind.
To create a system image, you’ll need to have a CD-RW/DVD-RW drive, an external hard disk, or access to a network drive. To access Backup and Restore, click the Start button, type Backup in the Search box, and press [Enter] when Backup and Restore appears in the result pane.
Once you have Backup and Restore up, select the Create a System Image option and choose your backup location. As you can see in Figure A, I used a DVD-RW drive on my system.
On my test system, I’ll use DVDs to create my system image.
As you can see in Figure B, on my test system all the partitions on the drive are selected by default. To initiate the operation, just click Start backup. On my test system with a 500GB hard disk, it took over an hour and required eight DVDs.
Creating a System Image on DVDs takes a little while.
When the System Image is complete, you’ll be prompted to create a System Repair disc, as shown in Figure C. This is the disc that you will use to boot your system and restore your system image in the event that you need it.
When the System Image is complete, you’ll be prompted to create a System Repair disc.
Setting up a partition
With your System Image discs safely tucked away, you’ll use the Disk Management tool to make room on your hard disk for Windows 8. To launch Disk Management, click the Start button, type Disk Management in the Search box, and press [Enter] when Create and format hard disk partitions appears in the result pane. When Disk Management launches, locate the operating system partition of the drive, right click, and select the Shrink Volume command. As you can see in Figure D, on my example system, there is a 100MB system partition and a 17GB HP Recovery partition in addition to the 450GB OS, or operating system, partition.
Right click on the operating system partition of the drive and select the Shrink Volume command.
For my Windows 8 partition, I set aside 50GB by entering 51200 as the amount of space to shrink the existing volume, as shown in Figure E. Once you’ve specified the size, click the Shrink button. It will take a several minutes to shrink the partition. When the operation is complete, you’ll see the new space at the end of the partition and notice that it is marked as Unallocated. In order to install Windows 8 without any problems, you should covert this unallocated space into a volume with a drive letter. To do so you’ll launch the New Simple Volume Wizard.
To set up a 50GB partition, I entered 51200 as the amount of space to shrink the existing volume.
To continue, right click the new partition and select the New Simple Volume command, as shown in Figure F. When you do, the New Simple Volume Wizard will launch.
To launch the wizard, right click the new partition and select the New Simple Volume command.
The New Simple Volume Wizard consists of five screens – the first and the fifth are shown in Figure G. As you progress through the wizard, you’ll be prompted to specify the size, assign a drive letter, choose a file system, enter a name for the volume, and choose how to format the drive. For everything but the volume name, you should just go with the defaults. As you can see, I specifically named the volume Windows 8 to prevent any ambiguity in later steps. Since the partition was created from your existing partition, you can just go with the Quick format option.
The New Simple Volume Wizard consists of five screens.
When you’re finished, you’ll see the new partition in Disk Manager. Figure H shows the new 50GB partition with the volume name, assigned to drive F, and marked as a Logical Drive.
The 50 GB partition is now ready for the Windows 8 installation.
Installing Windows 8
Now that you have your partition established and assigned a drive letter, installing Windows 8 in a dual-boot configuration should be a pretty straightforward operation. Let’s take a closer look.
To begin, insert the Windows 8 Release Preview DVD and reboot your system. After a few minutes, you’ll see the Windows Setup screen shown in Figure I and you will specify your language settings before clicking Next.
The first step in the installation is to specify your language settings.
Once the initial steps are taken care of, you’ll see the Windows Setup screen shown in Figure J and will click the Install Now button.
To get started, just click the Install Now button.
You’ll then see a Windows Setup screen shown in Figure K and will need to make sure that you select the Custom option.
Make sure that you select the Custom Install Windows only option.
At this point, Windows Setup will prompt you to choose the location to which you want to install Windows 8. As you can see in Figure L, on my test system it is showing all available partitions and I have selected the new volume labeled Windows 8 and assigned drive letter F.
On my test system, I have selected the new volume labeled Windows 8 and assigned drive letter F.
After selecting the new partition on which to install Windows 8 and clicking Next, the installation will begin, as shown in Figure M. This part of the operation will take a while so go get yourself a cup of tea.
As soon as you click Next, Windows Setup will begin copying files to the new partition.
Dual-booting Windows 7/Windows 8
When the installation is complete, Windows Setup will reboot your system one final time and you will then see the new Windows 8 style dual boot screen shown in Figure N. As you can see, Windows 8 will automatically launch in 30 seconds if you don’t choose Windows 7.
The new Windows 8 style boot screen display for 30 seconds before launching Windows 8.
If you want to alter the amount of time before Windows 8 will run, you can click the Change defaults or choose other options at the bottom of the screen. There are actually a multitude of options that you can change and I’ll cover all of them in a future article.
With Windows 7, Microsoft did a really good job making the system perform well. However, over time, Windows 7 systems can slow down and need some care and feeding to regain their former glory. Further, some Windows 7 features can be leveraged to improve overall system performance. In this article, I will outline 10 steps you can take to boost the performance of your Windows 7 systems.
1: Disable unnecessary services
Not every system service that is running on a stock Windows 7 machine is necessary. A number of services can either be disabled or modified to run only when needed. Once you make these changes, the service no longer has to consume system resources and the system no longer has to spend time starting the service.
2: Reduce the number of startup items
Windows 7 systems eventually begin to suffer under the weight of software that is installed in the normal course of business. Many software titles install more than is necessary and include helper applications designed solely to make the software start up more quickly or facilitate other communication (e.g., iTunes helper). And new software installations might add a permanent presence to the system tray, even if it’s not absolutely necessary for the system to function (Steam games, for example).
You could go through your system tool by tool and remove the offending software, but you might want to keep the underlying tool around and just prevent the helper from loading. This and more can be accomplished through the use of MSconfig, a tool that has long been a part of Windows. MSconfig allows you to selectively disable startup items and take other steps toward improving overall system performance.
To use MSconfig, go to Start and in the search box, type MSconfig. From the Startup tab (Figure A), you can disable items. Just be careful about what you choose.
Disable items to improve overall system performance.
3: Remove the bloatware installed by vendors
I’ve long felt that Microsoft’s OEMs sometimes actively work against the Redmond behemoth and sully the company’s name. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of what has become known as “bloatware.” In the never-ending race to the bottom of the PC market, lower cost PCs have had their profit margins bolstered by OEMs through the inclusion of mostly junk software – short-term trials and the like — that does nothing but add a few dollars of profit while bringing performance to a crawl. Frankly, this is one of the reasons that I believe that Microsoft’s Surface announcement, in which Microsoft noted that it would make its own device, is brilliant. The company needs to start with a clean slate in some ways (no pun intended).
If your PC shipped with a bunch of stuff you’ll never use, get rid of that software. Generally, you can go to Start | Control Panel | Programs And Features (Figure B) and remove software you no longer plan to use. If the software adds items to the startup process, getting rid of it will make the PC start faster and, ultimately, perform better overall.
Use Programs And Features to remove unwanted software.
4: Keep viruses and spyware off your system
If you’re running Windows, you need to be running an anti-malware program to keep viruses and spyware off your system. Nothing will ruin good performance like a boatload of spyware. My personal favorite (and free!) tool for combating malware is Microsoft Security Essentials. In my experience, it’s been successful in catching bad stuff while not significantly degrading system performance itself.
5: Check your memory
How much RAM do you have? Is your system consuming all or most of your RAM? Does the system page out to disk? If so, you’re suffering a massive performance hit, which can be solved by adding more memory to your PC.
6: Go solid state
Solid state is all the rage these days, and with good reason. It’s fast! More and more laptops and even desktops are moving to the technology because of the performance benefits. Solid state disks use memory cells from which data can be read very quickly, as opposed to the relatively plodding nature of rotational storage. By moving to SSD, you can give your Windows 7 system renewed life — and give yourself a whole new user experience.
But SSDs can be expensive, so you need to be smart about how to use them in the most cost-effective way. See ZDnet’s Windows 7 and SSDs: Trimming the fat from your system drive for tips on making good decisions about how to implement SSD.
7: Ensure that power settings favor performance
This one is easy! When you’re plugged in, configure Windows 7’s power plans to favor performance over power savings. When you choose to use Windows 7′ high performance power plan, you might increase the computer’s performance in some (but not all) circumstances. It really depends on the kind of work you’re doing and how often you allow the computer to sit idle.
To change power plans, go to Start | Control Panel | Power Options and choose your power plan settings (Figure C).
Go to Power Options to choose Windows 7 power plan settings.
8: Keep your system defragmented (unless you’ve followed item 6)
If you’re using a traditional spinning disk in your Windows 7 system, you can keep your system operating at peak efficiency by periodically defragmenting the hard drive. If, however, you’ve opted to go with SSD-based storage, don’t do this. First, you won’t get any performance benefit and second, you’ll significantly reduce the life of that expensive SSD.
Disk defragmentation is scheduled to take place once per week, but you can change this by going to Start | Accessories | System Tools | Disk Defragmenter (Figure D). In addition to changing the schedule, you can run an on-demand defrag from here.
You can schedule a defrag in the Disk Defragmenter dialog box.
9: Disable or tune search indexing
Windows 7’s search is good, but it can also affect system performance. If you really need to run a tool at full tilt, you can disable indexing altogether.
10: Use ReadyBoost
Perhaps you don’t want to jump into the solid-state game right away but would like some of the benefit that can be had from flash-based storage. Using nothing more than a USB stick, you can do so through a Windows 7 feature known as ReadyBoost. (Note that if you’re already using an SSD as your system drive, ReadyBoost won’t be available, since there would be no performance gain.)
ReadyBoost allows the system to make use of one of these speedy storage devices as a cache, improving overall performance of the system. The flash storage device that you choose to use for ReadyBoost should meet the following specifications set by Microsoft:
- Capacity of at least 256 MB, with at least 64 kilobytes (KB) of free space
- At least a 2.5 MB/sec throughput for 4-KB random reads
- At least a 1.75 MB/sec throughput for 1MB random writes
Here’s another nice feature: If Windows doesn’t think ReadyBoost will provide a performance gain, it will tell you and won’t let you enable it. In Figure E, you can see that I’ve opened the properties for a portable USB stick, which I’ve added to my Windows 7 system. However, Windows knows that the system disk is already fast enough, so ReadyBoost isn’t available as an option.
ReadyBoost isn’t needed for this system.
Successful blogs require effort, imagination, and a feature-rich platform. WordPress can help you out with the last item, thanks to a wide assortment of powerful plugins.
WordPress is the most powerful and popular blogging tool available. And blogging isn’t just for personal use now. It has turned into a great marketing tool that can help spread the word about your product or service.
Naturally, if you decide to take on a blog for your company, you’ll want to make sure it has as much in the way of features and flexibility as you can get. WordPress offers just that in the way of plugins. With them, you can get more from your blog than you thought possible.
Of course, defining “must-have” is challenging, simply because every blog is different. And there are plenty of plugins out there to take WordPress beyond the standard blog. But here are five plugins I have found that benefit the widest reach of blogs.
Akismet (Figure A) is the single most powerful tool you can use in the prevention of spam on your blog. This is only necessary if you allow discussions on posts (and why wouldn’t you want to promote user interaction?). If you do happen to encourage users to converse about a topic, you will definitely want to enable Akismet. This plugin comes with the base WordPress install, but it isn’t free. You will have to pay a fee based on the purpose of your blog. It’s worth it.
2: GRAND FIAGallery
GRAND FIAGallery (Figure B) is one of the best gallery tools out there. With it, you can rotate banners, images, music, video, and more. FIA is a flash and jQuery plugin that is simple to install, easy to use, and incredibly powerful. You can even purchase amazing “skins” that will turn your gallery into a work of art itself.
3: SEO Ultimate
SEO Ultimate (Figure C) is one of the best plugins you’ll find to help you gain an edge on search engine optimization. This extension gives you control over title tags, no index, meta tags, slugs, canonical, autolinks, 404 errors, and rich snippets, among other things. Even though SEO might be the last thing you think of for your blog, your competition isn’t feeling the same way! You need to help your product or business in every way you can, and SEO Ultimate might be the easiest way to get that blog up the rankings on the Web.
4: Track That Stat
Track That Stat (Figure D) allows you to view your blog status in real time. See your unique views, referrals, keywords, who’s logged in, individual page status, and much more. You can even monitor how traffic has been for the past 30 days. This is a great way to determine which days your site is more popular so you can better manage when content hits the front page.
Track That Stat
5: BWS Captcha
BWS Captcha (Figure E) is one of the simplest Captcha plugins around. And BWS allows you to do more than have the user enter a string of text. It lets you enable simple math questions that are sure to stop bots from getting in and making comments. Using BWS Captcha along with Akismet delivers a one-two punch to keep your content safe from the scum of the net known as spam!
Other good extensions?
There are many extensions for WordPress available. These five have done a great job for me and I’m sure they’ll help protect and extend your WordPress-powered blog. Have you found other must-have extensions for the WordPress system?
Use the Disk Management Tool in Microsoft Windows 7 to add a partition to a hard disk volume so you can create a new logical drive.
In a previous blog post, I described how to use the Microsoft Windows 7 Disk Management tool to shrink an existing hard drive volume:” Shrink a Hard Drive Volume in Windows 7.” Once you have shrunk a volume, you can then establish a new partition on the newly empty space and create a new logical hard drive for your Windows operating system. Here are the steps to make that happen.
As in the previous post, the first step is to start the Windows 7 Disk Management tool with elevated administrative rights. Click the Start menu button and type diskmgmt.msc into the search box and then right-click the diskmgmt.msc entry to get to the Run as Administrator item in the context menu, as shown in Figure A.
Open the Disk Management Tool with administrative rights.
Clicking Run as Administrator will load the Disk Management Tool, which will look something like Figure B. As you can see, we have some empty space to work with after shrinking the volume previously.
There is empty space to fill.
Right-click on the empty area to get the context menu and then navigate to the New Simple Volume menu item, which will start the appropriate wizard (Figure C).
Start the New Simple Volume Wizard.
Click Next on the Welcome screen (Figure D) to start the process.
The Welcome screen starts the process.
You can take the empty space and divide it into several drives, but in our example, I am going to use the remaining space for the new simple volume (Figure E).
Specify the volume size.
On the next screen in the wizard you are asked to assign a drive letter or path to the new volume (Figure F). You have three choices:
- Assign the following drive letter: Windows has suggested the next available drive letter. This is the default and will most often be the preferable choice.
- Mount in the following empty NTFS folder: Instead of using a drive letter you can mount the drive to a folder. This essentially makes the drive look like and operate like a folder in Windows.
- Do not assign a drive letter or drive path: You will have to assign a letter or path later in order to make the drive usable for storage.
We’ll just stick with the default and make a new drive E.
Assign a drive letter or drive path.
The screen in the wizard deals with formatting our new drive (Figure G). In general, you should choose to format this drive under the NTFS file system; however, you can also choose to use FAT32. The other default setting should not be used unless you know have a specific reason to change the allocation size.
You should give your new drive a label to help you distinguish the new drive from other drives on your system. A quick format will take less time, but it will not find and mark bad sectors on your drive that could cause problems later.
NTFS drives have built-in compression systems that are essentially seamless to users and can be a good choice if storage space is a premium.
Set the formatting options.
The last screen in the wizard (Figure H) gives you a summary of your choices and the opportunity to step back and make changes. When you are satisfied with your choices, click the Finished button.
Click Finish to create your drive.
When the formatting is complete, you will have a new drive visible to Windows 7 and ready to store your files (Figure I).
A new drive is available.
Use the Disk Management Tool in Microsoft Windows 7 to shrink a hard drive volume to create room so that you can add a new partition.
Microsoft Windows 7 provides several tools for managing the configuration of your computer and the various parts of your operating system. There are times where you will want to shrink the amount of allocated space on your hard drive, referred to as a volume, to make room for another partition. In the not-so-distant past you would have used a third-party tool for this task, but with the Windows 7 Disk Management Tool, the utility you require is part of the operating system.
Shrink a volume
The first step is to start the Disk Management tool with elevated administrative rights. Click the Start menu button, type diskmgmt.msc into the search box, and then right-click the diskmgmt.msc entry to get to the Run as Administrator item in the context menu, as shown in Figure A.
Open the Disk Management Tool with administrative rights.
Clicking Run as Administrator will load the Disk Management Tool, which will look something like Figure B.
The Disk Management Tool will load.
As you can see, I have a recover disk on my test machine in addition to an Operating System partition and a Data partition. In general, you want to shrink a nonoperating system volume, so we will shrink the Data partition (D:).
Right-click the drive you want to shrink (D: in our example) and navigate to the Shrink Volume menu item, as shown in Figure C.
Navigate to the Shrink Volume menu item.
The Disk Management Tool will take a few seconds to analyze the drive in question and then present you with a summary screen similar to the one shown in Figure D.
The Summary shrink screen shows the results of the analysis.
The number you can change on this screen is Enter the Amount of Space to Shrink in MB box. I am shrinking drive D by 5000MB (5GB), as you can see in Figure E. Click the Shrink button when you are ready.
Shrink the drive by 5000MB.
When the process is complete, you will have a new unallocated partition. The actual size will be less than what you asked for as there will be some space taken up by the Windows file system, as shown in Figure F.
A new unallocated partition will appear.
If you are still trying to squeeze more speed and performance out of Windows 7, here is a tip that will accelerate the display of menu items.
For some users, Microsoft Windows 7 can never go fast enough. There is always a tweak or Registry edit that can squeeze more speed and performance out of the operating system. This Quick Tip shows you how to speed up the display of menu items in Windows 7 with a simple Registry edit.
Note: Editing the Windows Registry file, if not done correctly, could make a PC unusable. Please, back up the Registry file before you attempt this tip.
Follow these steps to speed up menu display in Windows 7. In the Start Menu’s Search box, type the word “regedit” and click the regedit.exe entry (Figure A).
Start the Registry editor.
Under the HKEY_CURRENT_USER hive, navigate to this key:
In the right-hand pane, look for the MenuShowDelay item (Figure B).
Locate the MenuShowDelay item.
Right-click on the MenuShowDelay item and select the Modify option in the context menu (Figure C).
You can now change the value in the Edit String dialog box to a number lower than the default 400 (Figure D).
Warning, don’t go crazy and set the value at zero or otherwise extraordinarily low because it could make navigating Windows impossible. A better value would be around 100.
Change the default value.
Takeaway: Keep your Windows machines optimized and healthy with the help of these five tools.
The PC is the single greatest tool for getting your work done. And out of the box, that PC works great. But over time, it can become bogged down and buggy. Fragmentation, hard-disk issues, bad memory, viruses, filled caches, and registry errors can cause computers to act flaky or even stop working all together. This doesn’t have to be the case. With a bit of preventive maintenance, you can keep those machines running in tip-top shape.
But what tools to use? With so many available, it can be tricky to find the best combination of tools to keep those machines running smoothly. Let’s take a look at five such tools.
MemTest (Figure A) is a simple test that determines whether your computer can reliably store information in its RAM. With this tool, you can define how much memory to test and then run the test (with all applications closed). If an error is reported, your RAM is suspect. The only drawback to MemTest (and most software memory testers) is that it can’t pinpoint which memory chip is bad. But if you’re looking for a memory tester that can be run while Windows itself is running, MemTest is your tool.
I am a big fan of CCleaner (Figure B), from Piriform. CCleaner can help you with preventive maintenance via two tools to help keep the “bad” out of your machine. Not only can CCleaner keep your disk cache clean, it can keep your registry free of errors. Both of these issues can, over time, result in a computer running less than efficiently or, in worst case scenarios, not running at all. Using CCleaner regularly will go a long way toward keeping your machines running well.
3: HDD Scan
HDD Scan (Figure C) is a free hard disk diagnostic tool that supports standard drives, RAID arrays, Flash USB, and SSD drives. With this tool, you can scan for errors (bad blocks and bad sectors), show S.M.A.R.T. attributes, and change a limited number of HDD parameters (such as AAM and APM). By regularly using this tool (not just when there seems to be an issue), you may avoid a catastrophic disaster. The storage device tests include:
- Verification in linear mode
- Reading in linear mode
- Erasing in linear mode
- Reading in Butterfly mode
4: Belarc Advisor
Belarc Advisor (Figure D) is not so much a maintenance tool as an auditing tool. It gives you a clear look into installed software, hardware, network inventory, missing Microsoft hotfixes, antivirus status, security benchmarks, and much more. Just download this free application, run it, save the report as an HTML document, and you’re good to go.
Defraggler (Figure E) is one of the best defrag programs available. It will defrag an entire hard disk as well as individual files or folders. You can specify what you want to defrag and how you want to defrag it. Defraggler also offers a portable version, so you don’t have to install the tool on every machine you touch. But I recommend installing Defraggler and setting up regularly scheduled defrags to keep every machine on your network running smoothly.
A little preventive maintenance and information can go a long way to protecting your costly investments. You want to get the most out of your PCs, but you don’t want to have to constantly be repairing or maintaining them. With the help of a few tools, you can do the right amount of preventive maintenance and have healthy systems to keep your business running smoothly.
Takeaway: To make sure your reputation stays clean, you have to keep an eye on what’s being said about you. These tools can help you protect your good name.
If you conduct business online, or if you have an online presence for a product, service, talent, or skill, you need to manage how the millions upon millions of online users perceive you. It takes only a few bad comments, posts, or blogs to ruin the reputation you have spent years building. Fortunately, there are tools out there to help you manage that reputation. Those tools aren’t exactly obvious — and you have use caution when selecting them (to make sure you’re not about to get caught up in a scam). But when you find a reliable tool, it’s wise to make use of it.
Here are five tools you can use to help you ensure that your online brand and reputation are where you want them. Naturally, these tools require some work to really make the most of what they offer. And most of them aren’t just one-time usage tools — you actually have to spend time with them to really help massage your reputation.
1: Google’s Me on the Web
Google has a nice tool that allows you to easily monitor search results for your name. Me on the Web (Figure A) is included in the Google Dashboard. It allows you set up search monitors for your name/brand, assists you in the removal of unwanted content, and can help you manage your online identity. I have found the search monitors to be incredibly helpful as they alert you when others (individuals, companies, etc.) mention your name or your brand.
Me on the Web
Reputation.com (Figure B) is a service that allows you to see how you look online. The service is free and it doesn’t use your information for any untoward activities. All you do is create a free account. Then you can monitor your online “buzz,” search for and remove any negative information/mentions about you, and find out how you can control what people see when they search for you.
Naymz (Figure C) is not a free service (although you can sign up for a 30-day free trial) and is a bit different from the other tools. Naymz is a network that includes tools to help you manage your reputation. With these tools (and with interaction within the network) you earn free products and services (as your reputation grows). Thanks to the Naymz network, you can get a quick assessment of what your peers think of you as well as connect to Facebook and Twitter.
4: Whos Talkin
Whos Talkin (Figure D) is a social media search tool that shows you what members of social sites are saying about your name or brand. Using the tool is as simple as entering your name (or brand), clicking search, and waiting for the results. Whos Talkin doesn’t help you manage those results, but it will give you a lightning-fast look at what the Web is saying about your name or brand. What is done with those results is up to you. Why use this over a simple Google search? Whos Talkin focuses only on social media, so your results aren’t buried inside other results.
Yasni (Figure E) is a nice free tool that lets you search for people and services. The results of those searches will tell you how that person/service is seen from an online point of view. The only downfall of Yasni is that it will include any results that match your criteria. If I search for my own name, I find results from Louisville (me), Kentucky (me), and Michigan (not me). You are also given popular search terms that are associated with the name/service. When I search for my name, I get associated terms like zombie (correct), Linux (correct), Android (correct), Ubuntu (correct), and Windows (ummmm)…. Although you won’t find tools to help you correct any negative comments/posts/results, you can at least discover all the key terms that are associated with you and your brand.
Your reputation is everything in this constantly shrinking online-centric world. If you don’t monitor and manage your online name and brand, you run the risk of seeing your reputation plummet and your value disintegrate. Give each of these tools a test-drive and see if you can come up with a one-two combination to help you keep your reputation in check.
Many people take a dim view of password recovery tools for ethical reasons — understandably so. You have a tool that can, in some cases, crack passwords on machines. But in certain situations, these tools wind up being the last ditch effort that can save you from having to go as far as reinstalling the operating system. Imagine losing your Windows Server administrator password and not having the means to retrieve it. Would you want to have to reinstall? Not on your life! In such a tricky situation, a password recovery tool may be your only recourse. Let’s take a look at five “free” password recovery tools. I say “free” because in some cases there are tables that must be purchased (such as rainbow tables) to break some types of passwords.
LCP (Figure A) is a user-account password recovery tool for Windows NT/2000/XP/2003. This tool can recover using a dictionary attack, brute force attack, or a hybrid dictionary/brute force attack. LCP allows you to import from a local computer, remote computer, SAM file, .LC file, LCS file, PwDump file, and Sniff file. As with many of these applications, you should avoid using your machine while LCP recovers passwords, as it will consume the majority of your machine resources for the crack.
Ophcrack (Figure B) is one of the most popular password recovery tools. It’s free (open source as well), cross platform, and very reliable. Ophcrack uses a solid implementation of rainbow tables that just happens to have been done by those who created the method. Ophcrack runs on Windows, Linux/UNIX, and Mac. It cracks LM and NTLM hashes; has free tables for XP, Vista, and 7; includes a brute-force module for simple passwords; offers an audit mode and a CSV export; presents real-time graphs; has a LiveCD for easier (and more efficient) recovery; and dumps and loads hashes from encrypted SAM.
3: Windows Key
Windows Key (Figure C) can reset your Windows password for you. This is different from the other tools, in that it doesn’t recover a list of user passwords or even recover from a file. Windows Key creates a bootable CD (or USB device) you can use to boot the machine and recover the password. It’s simple to use, and it can reset both local (standard version) and domain admin account (Enterprise edition only) passwords. It promises a 100% recovery rate. Although Windows Key has a free trial, you’ll have to pony up for the full version (Standard $39.00 USD, Enterprise $295.00 USD) before you can really recover any passwords.
4: Windows Password Unlocker
Windows Password Unlocker (Figure D) also creates a USB or CD that can then be booted to recover passwords. There are three editions of this tool: Standard ($19.95 USD), Professional ($29.95 USD), and Enterprise ($49.95 USD). The biggest difference is that only the Enterprise and Professional editions can recover passwords. (Enterprise can even recover domain admin password.) The standard version simply removes the passwords, and it doesn’t support the USB flashdrive method.
5: Hash Suite
Hash Suite (Figure E) is marketed as a program designed to test the security of password hashes. It’s incredibly powerful and offers high performance (one of the fastest crackers available), an easy-to-use GUI, reports and statistics, and all the features of modern crackers. It also works on large number of hashes. This is the go-to tool when you need to recover (or test) a number of password hashes. Please note: To successfully use this tool, you will need to employ a pwdump tool to gain the necessary hashes for Hash Suite to crack. Here is a list of possible pwdump tools.
Takeaway: Think the Windows desktop is limited, inflexible, and boring? Good news: You’re not stuck with it. Here are five cool alternatives.
For some, the Windows Explorer shell is a fine desktop. But for anyone who has played around in the land of Linux long enough, that less-than-flexible Explorer interface just doesn’t work. Thankfully, there are ways around that. One way is to install a replacement Explorer shell. There are plenty of shells to choose from, some open source, some proprietary — and all of them offer something different for you to feast your eyes and mouse upon. Let’s take a look at five of the most appealing choices.
1: Aston Shell
Aston Shell (Figure A) is one of the most feature-rich of all the replacements. With plenty of add-ins, plug-ins, themes, and widgets to play with, the Aston desktop can become pretty much anything you like. You can also find animated skins and themes, live wallpaper, effects, and much more. Aston is shareware and will run you $29.95.
SharpEnviro (Figure B) might remind you a lot of Classic GNOME. The goal with SharpEnviro was to create a flexible, user-friendly desktop shell that would please new users as well as more advanced users. They succeeded. This shell will especially appeal to users who want a shell whose every aspect can be customized. This shell is open source, so it’s free of charge.
WindowBlinds (Figure C), by Stardock, used to be a full-blown desktop shell replacement. That is no longer the case. Now WindowBlinds is a means of making the Windows 7 shell more user-configurable. This is mostly with regard to look and feel. You won’t be adding widgets and new and improved menus. But the improvements to the look of the Windows 7 interface can be fairly dramatic with WindowBlinds. This shell is proprietary and will cost you $19.95
bbLean (Figure D) is one of two BlackBox clones listed here. BlackBox was always considered one of the lightest, fastest window managers in the Linux environment. So for anyone who wants a desktop shell for Windows that is incredibly fast and minimal, bbLean is a great choice. With this shell, you will also have hotkeys, window skinning, the slit, the taskbar, the icon box, and the mouse menu. Lean and fast. This shell is open source, so it’s free of charge.
Xoblite (Figure E) is the second BlackBox clone for Windows in this list. I include it because it offers a few more advanced features than does bbLean, such as plugins, some extra tools, and a font pack. The default Xoblite desktop is similar to that of bbLean, but out of the box it looks more polished and advanced. Xoblite isn’t quite as lightning fast as bbLean, but it offers more features and power. Like bbLean, Xoblite is open source, so it’s free of charge.
Each of these replacement shells offers a different look and feel from Windows Explorer. If you’re a fan of customization — or just not a fan of the Windows desktop metaphor — you will certainly appreciate what each of these shell replacements has to offer.
By Jack Wallen
March 19, 2012, 2:48 PM PDT