PC and Internet Notes

Last Updated:   7/18/22  21:48                 Jeffrey Knauth    jeff@jgkhome.name

The purpose of this file is to describe some of the tools and procedures I use on my own PCs and on other PCs I have supported. The following notes may not be entirely applicable to your environment, but may still be of some help. I currently have Windows 10 on various desktop and laptop PCs. See also Windows 10 Configuration and Use Notes and Windows 10 Experience for some further Windows information.

Contents

Organizing Your Data To Simplify Backups

Try to organize your most important data into a relatively few number of directories ("folders" in Windows terminology). This makes it much easier to do a quick backup of your critical data and helps make the backup fit easily on your backup medium, e.g., a flash drive. With this type of organization, a backup of this data can be done with only a few mouse clicks. It can even be scheduled to run automatically. I have written a BUTOZIP.BAT tool to make such backups very easy to do on Windows. It is discussed in Tools for Making Backups.

CRITICAL FILES: The type of data to consider for such a quick backup consists of your notes, financial files, emails, Word documents, macros, bookmarks, address books, program configuration files, etc. The size of this data is typically a very small percentage of all the data on your hard drive. However this is the data most important to you and is the data most difficult (if not impossible) to recreate if lost. The trick is to organize the location of these files to make them simple to work with as a group. Then be conscientious about using that structure.

LARGE NON-CRITICAL FILES: Be careful not to mingle large but less important files with your critical data. For example, keep picture and music files separate from your critical data. Backing up many such large files will take much longer than backing up just your critical files and will use much more space on your backup medium. Your picture and music files probably change much less frequently than your critical data; they can be backed up separately and on a less frequent schedule than is used for backing up your critical data.

DIRECTORY TREES: A directory tree rooted at a particular directory consists of that directory and all the directories within it (i.e., its "subdirectories") and all the subdirectories within each of those subdirectories, etc., until all the subordinate directories have been reached.

Backing up a directory tree backs up all the files in the directories of that tree and also maintains the way the files are organized in the tree structure. You can take advantage of directory trees to help achieve the file organization described above. For example, you might have many files relating to a number of different subjects. Perhaps you have a separate directory created for each of those subjects. If you make each of those directories be a subdirectory under some master directory, then you can just back up the master directory to automatically back up the subdirectories as well (if the proper instructions are given). So instead of having to back up many directories and hundreds of files individually, you can back up a single directory and achieve the same result.

"DOCUMENTS" DIRECTORY: Some programs automatically put their output into the "Documents" directory. Thus by backing up "Documents" you may be able to achieve a good part of the goal of backing up your critical data. There is a caveat, however: "Documents" may (version dependent) contain subdirectories like "Pictures" and "Music" which contain large, non-critical files. You must be careful to avoid backing up the subdirectories that contain large amounts of non-critical data. That is usually easy to do with the tools described in Tools for Making Backups.

From Windows XP to Windows Vista to Windows 7 to Windows 8 to Windows 10 to ...?, Microsoft has changed the name, location, and contents of what I call "Documents" above. The above basic concepts apply, however.

PARTITIONS: Another organizational trick is to divide your hard drive into multiple partitions. You can then put your large, relatively static files, e.g., music and picture files, in a partition separate from your operating system and your frequently changing data. However this technique is more relevant for simplifying system backups rather than doing the quick critical data backups discussed in this section. System backups are discussed in Tools for Making Backups.

You can also use multiple partitions to set up multiple operating systems on the same hard drive. This can be very useful for testing. For example, you can set up a production version of Windows and a test version of Windows on the same PC. Then if you want to try out some new software, which you don't fully trust, you can install it on the test partition. If the test partition gets corrupted, that's no big loss. You haven't destroyed your main Windows partition and it is easy to recreate the test partition using the Terabyte BootIt tools described in Tools for Making Backups.

Protecting Your System from Malware

MALWARE: Unfortunately, nowadays it is very easy for your system to become infected with malware. Malware is malicious software, designed to harm your system by destroying or stealing your data, slowing down your PC, displaying aggravating messages, mailing spam (or worse) to people in your address book, or producing some other undesirable effect. Malware comes in various types and goes by the names of viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, rootkits, etc. The malware can be introduced from the internet (especially if you connect via broadband for long periods of time) or may get into your system from a diskette, CD, DVD, flash memory device, external hard drive, local network device, or anything else to which your PC is attached, even briefly, directly or indirectly -- probably more than immediately comes to mind, given all the gadgets now in wide use. Not a comforting thought.

Keeping your PC free from malware is important not only to protect yourself, but also to protect others. If your PC becomes infected, it could become a platform by which the bad guys can do damage to other computers that are directly or indirectly connected to yours. For example, your PC might be hijacked to become part of a "botnet". Using your internet connection, the botnet malware could have your PC join many other such infected PCs to more quickly spread the infection or to do a mass attack on some website.

PROTECTION: To protect against such malware, it is important to run software that provides protection. There are antivirus, firewall, and antispyware programs to do this. Some programs provide all three types of protection in one package; other programs implement only one or two types of protection, so multiple programs are required. In the case of antispyware, you can (and probably should) run multiple antispyware programs to provide good protection since one antispyware program can catch some of what another might miss. However, in the case of antivirus and firewall software, you should avoid simultaneously running multiple instances of the same type because sometimes the "always-active" parts of the programs can conflict with each other, maybe drastically. Below I have listed the programs I use.

You should regularly update your malware protection software. Most programs have facilities that allow updates, e.g., virus signatures, to be downloaded from the internet. This can often be done automatically. If you don't do such updates, your protection software won't know about new malware (new malware is invented every day by the bad guys) and won't be able to protect you from it.

It is also important to keep your operating system (Windows), application programs, and other software up-to-date. Malware creators are good at finding software security exposures (which, of course, should not have been in the software to begin with). The software writers must then come up with a fix, a "patch", to remove each exposure and make the fixes available to you. However this does no good if you don't install the fixes. Tools and procedures are available to help you with this maintenance.

FIREWALLS: If you connect to the internet via broadband, e.g., via cable or fiber optic, it is a very good idea to use a hardware firewall device between the internet access-provider's "modem" and your PC. The hardware firewall filters out many of the attacks on your PC that come from the internet. However, the device usually does not protect against data being sent from your PC to the internet without your permission. An example of such a bad outbound message is if spyware tries to send data to the internet to let someone collect information about you without your permission. A good software firewall running on your PC catches such outbound messages from your PC. The software firewall also (hopefully) catches inbound attacks from the internet, but it is better to use a hardware firewall to do the bulk of the work to catch the (often many) inbound attacks. Then let the software firewall catch anything that slips thru, which usually is not much. Thus the best approach is to have both a hardware and a software firewall.

Hardware firewalls are simple, inexpensive, and reliable. In addition to providing the protection described above, most such devices, acting as routers, allow multiple PCs to be attached so you can set up your own home network. All the PCs can then access the internet independently thru the broadband connection. You can also set it up to allow the PCs to access each other, e.g., to share files and printers.

Your home network can use either a wired or a wireless connection for each PC to reach the firewall/router device. However, for any such home network, and particularly if you use a wireless firewall/router, you must carefully configure the device and your Windows software to ensure proper network security. Wireless networks are inherently less secure than wired networks because they make it easier for more people to potentially gain access to your PC and other network resources.

ANTI-MALWARE USED: Here's what I use on my home PCs for antivirus, antispyware, and firewalls:

Below are links for these and some other security-related products:

Tools for Making Backups

Below I'll discuss two types of backups: quick backups of selected data and full system backups.

Selective Backups

If you have organized your critical data as described in Organizing Your Data To Simplify Backups, you can use many techniques to easily copy that data to a backup location, such as a hard drive (internal or external), a flash drive, or some other medium. For example, it is very easy to make a quick backup of just your critical data by using some variant of my BUTOZIP.BAT tool. For information about how to configure and use this tool, see Overview of BUTOZIP.BAT Tool which discusses how to tailor BUTOZIP.BAT to back up selected files to a drive and directory you specify.

COPYING DATA TO A SECOND DRIVE: If you back up your critical data to some location on your internal system hard drive, even to another partition on that drive, the data is susceptible to loss if that drive has a problem, e.g., a hardware failure, which can most definitely happen. Then you may have lost the original data AND the backup. For this reason I regularly (at least daily) use BUTOZIP to back up my critical data to another drive. Rather than trying to remember to do this manually, I use the Windows Task Scheduler to run BUTOZIP early every morning. (I leave my PC on all night to run tasks for World Community Grid.) The BUTOZIP tool creates a zip file and then copies it to both a local directory on that desktop PC and also copies it over my local network to a second PC which I use for data storage and other background work. Each such zip file is about 100 MB in size; much of that is many years' worth of mail directories. Your backup zip file could be larger or smaller.

Caveat: If you COPY/XCOPY your critical backup data to a CD/DVD, one consideration is that certain characters are not allowed in directory or file names used on a CD/DVD. In general, if a name is allowed in Windows, it is allowed as a CD/DVD directory or file name. However one exception is the ";" (semicolon) character, which is allowed in a Windows name, but is not allowed in a CD/DVD name. Because I use the BUTOZIP tool described above, this name restriction does not arise. The BAT file zips all the directories and files being backed up into a single zip file, thus hiding the names of the individual files inside the zip file.

PROGRAM CONSIDERATIONS: Some programs make backing up their critical data easier than others by separating and identifying the user data of interest. For example, the Firefox browser and Thunderbird mail program allow easy automated backups. For the programs you use, you may need to do some detective work to find where those programs put their critical files. Another consideration is that many files being backed up need to be closed to allow the copy operation to work reliably. For example, you need to close Thunderbird before backing up its mail files.

Full System Backups

There are tools available to back up every single bit of data on your hard drive, operating system and all, not just selected data. If a disaster occurs (e.g., your hard drive breaks, a virus irrevocably corrupts your data, your kid erases Windows, etc.), you can boot the tool from a flash drive, CD, diskette, or whatever and recover everything, at least back to the level that existed when you had last done a full system backup.

BOOTIT TOOLS: To do system backups, I use BootIt tools from TeraByte Unlimited. (Other companies make similar tools.) Long ago I started with BootIt Next Generation (BING), which was later replaced by BootIT Bare Metal (BIBM). The most recent offering is BootIt UEFI (BIU), which takes advantage of the latest PC hardware, firmware, and software designs. All can do backups/restores of whole drives or of specified individual or multiple partitions. They also provide facilities to manage partitions, e.g. create, delete, copy, resize, move, and format. Finally (at least of the BootIt facilities I use) they allow PC multibooting -- multiple operating systems can exist on a single PC and you can select from a menu the one you want to be active on the next boot of the PC.

I use BIU on my more modern PCs, those that support the UEFI BIOS. I use BIBM on my older PCs, those that support only legacy BIOS. Nowadays I do my backups to external hard drives connected to the PC by at least USB 3.0 or eSATA. See Backup/Restore, Partition Management, and Multiboot Programs which describes some recent testing I did with BIU, as well as with a backup/restore program built into Windows 10.

The BootIt user interface isn't as pretty as that provided by some other products and the documentation is not for the faint of heart since it covers many, many things that most users don't have to deal with. Certainly the BootIt products require some additional skill to install and use. However over many years I have found they work very reliably for the things I need to do.

PARTITIONS: As mentioned above, you can partition your hard drive to make doing a full system backup easier. On some of my PCs I have one partition for the Windows operating system and several other partitions for data of various types -- music, pictures, programming development, large archived documents, etc. I do a full back up of the Windows partition to an external hard drive about every three or four weeks -- more often if changes merit. I back up the other partitions when needed, depending on the amount of change activity on them. And, of course, I back up my critical data every day, as described above.

In fact on some of my more complicated PCs I also have several test partitions where I can copy my production Windows system for a quick backup or so I can safely try out changes on a test partition before applying them to my production partition. BootIt provides a facility to easily copy one partition to another.

BACKUP MEDIA: BootIt can write to external hard drives attached via USB, firewire, or eSATA, as well as to CDs, DVDs, and other media. CDs and DVDs are not used much for this function nowadays. Although those optical media were inexpensive, they weren't too reliable or fast and their capacity was much too small to handle the ever-growing size of Windows and application programs. Nowadays PCs typically no longer come with a built-in optical drive. Because of these deficiencies, for many years I have done my system backups to external hard drives. Such drives are fast, capacious, inexpensive, and reliable. I have several and cycle among them so if one did fail, I still have pretty recent backup files on another.

Maintaining Your System

There are some simple things you can do to maintain your system, using just tools already available in Windows:

Miscellaneous Windows Facilities

The following useful tools are (or were) built into Windows -- some may have disappeared in later versions. Several places in the table mention making a shortcut. To do that, just right-click on the file described, hold the right button down as you drag to the location where you want the shortcut placed, e.g., the Desktop, then release the button and select "Shortcuts" or some similarly named menu item.

The instructions like "Start > Control Panel" mean first select the Start button (at the lower left of the Desktop), then select the Control Panel item. Actually in this case you may have to first select Start, then select Windows System, and finally select Control Panel. Or select Start and type "control panel" (without the quotes), then click on the Control Panel app at the top of the Start menu. Microsoft took a step backwards in Windows 8 and deleted the old Start button, then kept reworking its replacements in subsequent releases, but never quite regained the old simplicity. A third-party tool, e.g., Start10 for Windows 10, can be used to fix this, restoring something much more like the original Start button.

In the following table "%SystemRoot%" means the directory where Windows keeps many of the system files. If your main drive is C:, then %SystemRoot% is probably "C:\Windows" on that PC. Windows automatically replaces the "%SystemRoot%" string with "C:\Windows" in places like a shortcut Target field.

Re "Search box" in the following table:  In Windows 10 there is no longer a search box associated with the Start button; just click Start and type the item being searched for. With Start10, there is still a search box you type into.

Facility Use How To Access
File Explorer
(formerly called
Windows Explorer)
Display files with a view of a specific drive opened (the C: drive is the drive in the example shown to the right) Right-click the desktop, then select New > Shortcut. For the location, enter %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /N,/E,C:\, then click Next and enter an appropriate name
IPconfig Display internet connection information Right-click the Desktop, then select New > Shortcut. For the location, enter %SystemRoot%\system32\cmd.exe /k ipconfig /all, then click Next and enter an appropriate name
Disk Management Manage attached disk drives Press Windows key + X and select Disk Management; alternatively create a shortcut: right-click the Desktop, then select New > Shortcut. For the location, enter %SystemRoot%\system32\diskmgmt.msc, then click Next and enter an appropriate name
Event Viewer Examine system and application error logs Press Windows key + X and select Event Viewer; alternatively create a shortcut: right-click the Desktop, then select New > Shortcut. For the location, enter %SystemRoot%\system32\eventvwr.msc, then click Next and enter an appropriate name
System Properties Manage Windows properties Start > Settings > System > About > Advanced system settings
Display Properties Manage display properties Start > Settings > System > Display
Paint Create, display, and alter image files Start > type "paint" in Search box > Paint
Calculator A standard and a simple scientific calculator Start > type "calculator" in Search box > Calculator
WordPad A simple text editor Start > type "wordpad" in Search box > WordPad
Notepad An even simpler text editor Start > type "notepad" in Search box > Notepad
Windows Media Player Play audio and video files Start > type "media" in Search box > Windows Media Player
Screenshot
(copy whole Desktop)
Copy the Desktop to the clipboard PrntScrn key   (may be spelled differently on your PC)
Screenshot
(copy active window)
Copy the active window to the clipboard Alt + PrntScrn key   (may be spelled differently on your PC)
Screenshot
(PNG image of Desktop)
Create a PNG image of the Desktop in the user's Pictures/Screenshots directory Windows + PrntScrn keys
Snip & Sketch Capture parts of the display to the clipboard for saving, marking up, printing, or forwarding to Paint Windows key + Shift + S
(You can also set up the PrtScrn key to do this in Ease of Access > Keyboard > "Print Screen shortcut", or invoke it via a "Screen snip" Action Center button)
Steps Recorder Records steps as a procedure is executed to provide documentation for recreation of the procedure Start > type "steps" in Search box > Steps Recorder, e.g., to reproduce a problem
Fax and Scan Fax and scan documents Start > type "fax" in Search box > Windows Fax and Scan

Other Useful Programs

These programs can be downloaded from the internet for free:

Facility Use How To Access
Firefox   (see  NOTE) Internet browser www.mozilla.org/products/firefox
Thunderbird   (see  NOTE) Internet mail program www.thunderbird.net/en-US/
TreeSize Displays the size of files in a directory tree www.jam-software.com/freeware/index.shtml
7-zip Compresses/decompresses files in various formats www.7-zip.org
Notepad2 Text editor that does syntax highlighting www.flos-freeware.ch/notepad2.html
Notepad++ Text editor with even more bells and whistles notepad-plus-plus.org/
ShellFolderFix Fixes a Windows problem: makes system remember windows sizes and positions www.sevenforums.com/customization/40916-shellfolderfix-manage-folder-window-positions-size.html
CCleaner Cleans registry and removes extraneous files www.piriform.com/ccleaner
OpenHardwareMonitor Displays PC configuration details openhardwaremonitor.org
Speccy Displays PC configuration details www.ccleaner.com/ccleaner
Internet Speed Test Tests download/upload speeds over internet ting.speedtestcustom.com
GPU-Z Displays information about a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) www.techpowerup.com/download/techpowerup-gpu-z/
ReIcon Saves and restores Desktop icon layouts www.sordum.org/8366/reicon-v1-9-restore-desktop-icon-layouts/
Filezilla Uploads/downloads files using FTP protocols filezilla-project.org/
Adobe Acrobat Reader DC Displays PDF files get.adobe.com/reader/
AutoHotkey Lets you map strings and programs to keys autohotkey.com/
Python Python computing language www.python.org/
Google Earth Displays maps www.google.com/intl/en/earth/index.html
Google Maps Displays maps www.google.com/maps
Google Photos Cloud-based photo repository google.com/photos/
Image Resizer for Windows Resizes images for internet transmission bricelam.net/ImageResizer/
XVI32 Hexadecimal file editor www.chmaas.handshake.de/delphi/freeware/xvi32/xvi32.htm
Free Clipboard Viewer View items in the clipboard www.freeclipboardviewer.com
World Community Grid Lets your PC do beneficial work, e.g., medical/scientific research, during its idle time as part of a worldwide BOINC computer network www.worldcommunitygrid.org
Apple QuickTime Plays many types of media files www.apple.com/quicktime
Java JRE Java Runtime Environment www.java.com/en/download/
Regina REXX script interpreter regina-rexx.sourceforge.io/
Belarc Advisor Displays PC hardware and software information www.belarc.com/products_belarc_advisor
DBAN Wipes a hard drive completely and securely dban.org/
AutoRuns for Windows Displays Windows system information, e.g., what programs are started automatically when you logon docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/downloads/autoruns
Hasher Generates and compares MD5 and SHA signatures for files and strings www.karenware.com/powertools/karens-hasher
Directory Printer Prints a list of files in a directory tree www.karenware.com/powertools/karens-directory-printer
URL Discombobulator Decrypts mysterious URLs www.karenware.com/powertools/ptlookup
NOTE:  Mozilla.com provides many free, user-written extensions:

The following programs are not free. Prices vary depending on where you buy the software. You can search the internet for the best place to buy.

Facility Use How To Access
BootIt products (BIBM and BIU)
(Terabyte Unlimited)
Partition manager, backup/restore to/from various media, multiboot support www.terabyteunlimited.com
KEDIT for Windows
(Mansfield Software Group)
Text editor with very good macro capabilities (KEDIT support is being phased out, but I plan to keep on using it because of all the macros I have written and use all the time) www.kedit.com
Beyond Compare
(Scooter Software)
Compares files and directories http://www.scootersoftware.com
Word, Excel, PowerPoint
(Microsoft)
Microsoft Office programs office.microsoft.com
(rather than Microsoft 365, I use the simpler, standalone Office Home and Student 2019, e.g., purchased from Amazon)
Start10
(Stardock)
Replacement in Windows 10 the Windows 10 Start button stardock.com/products/start10/
Revo Uninstaller
(VS Revo Group)
Industrial grade uninstall program for Windows programs www.revouninstaller.com/
Mathematica
(Wolfram Research)
Industrial grade computing and mathematics program www.wolfram.com/mathematica/
Optical disc writing products
Nero, Roxio
Write CDs and DVDs ww2.nero.com/enu/index.html
www.roxio.com

Hardware

I use Linksys hardware firewalls/routers: www.linksys.com. Linksys used to be a subsidiary of Cisco; it is now part of Belkin.

I use APC and Belkin surge protectors and APC Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS): www.apc.com/home/us/en/ and www.belkin.com/power.

When Spectrum provided my internet access, I used an Arris/Motorola Surfboard cable modem: www.surfboard.com/. I now use Ting Internet (fiber optic) and no longer require a cable modem.

Some Useful Web Sites

Here are some web sites with useful PC and internet information:


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