PC and Internet Notes

Last Updated:   12/10/17  13:14                 Jeffrey Knauth    jknauth@nc.rr.com

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 7, 8, and 10 on various desktop and laptop PCs. I am in the process of migrating all of them to Windows 10. See also Windows 10 Configuration and Use Notes and Early 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 a single CD, DVD, flash drive, etc. 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, e-mails, 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 media. 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.

"MY DOCUMENTS" DIRECTORY: Many programs automatically put their output into the "My Documents" directory. Thus by backing up "My Documents" you may be able to achieve a good part of the goal of backing up your critical data. There is a caveat, however: "My Documents" may contain subdirectories like "My Pictures" and "My 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.

A second caveat: From Windows XP to Windows Vista to Windows 7 to Windows 8 to ...?, Microsoft has changed the name, location, and contents of what I call "My 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 BIBM or BING 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., cable, it is a very good idea to use a hardware firewall device between the cable modem and your PC. The hardware firewall filters out many of the attacks on your PC that come from the Internet. However, the device 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 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. Some security considerations for home wireless networks are listed at the end of Wireless Security Notes.

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, either on a hard drive (internal or external), a DVD or CD, a flash drive, etc. 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 Files 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 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 NEXT GENERATION (BING) and BOOTIT BARE METAL (BIBM): In late 2005 I started using BootIt Next Generation (BootIt NG or BING), which for only $35 did what other products do for much more money: partition creation/deletion/resizing/copying, partition backup and restore, multi-boot, support for a number of devices for backup/restore, and the ability to run completely independently of any operating system.

In 2011 Terabyte Unlimited replaced BING with an updated product called BootIt Bare Metal (BIBM). It costs about $40. The main functional change from BING is the ability to support much larger hard drives than the drives BING can handle. I now use BIBM on my main systems and will refer to it below, although BING can do the same things.

The BIBM user interface isn't as pretty as that provided by some other products and the products require a little more skill to install, but they have the advantage of working very reliably. See links listed here for details about how to install and use these tools.

PARTITIONS: As mentioned above, you can partition your hard drive to make doing a full system backup easier. 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.

In fact 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. BIBM provides a facility to easily copy one partition to another.

BACKUP MEDIA: BIBM 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 very inexpensive nowadays, maybe 25 cents apiece (or less) for high-quality media. They hold a great deal of data -- around 700MB for a CD and 4.5GB for a DVD (9 GB for a dual-layer DVD). This may seem like a lot, but Windows and application programs have grown so large that trying to do a system backup (involving at least several 10s of GBs) to such optical media has become impractical. The process is slow and requires much manual intervention to keep swapping discs. Also, I found that data checks occurred often, requiring you to discard any discs written up to that point and start over again. Because of these deficiencies, I now do my system backups to an external hard drive. Today external drives are 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. (Sorry, Windows 8 and 10 users. Microsoft took a step backwards and deleted the Start button. A third-party tool, e.g., Start10 for Windows 10, can be used to fill this hole.)

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 view of a specific drive opened (the C: drive is the drive in the example shown to the right) Make a shortcut to %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe, then right-click the shortcut, select Properties > Shortcut and set Target to %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /N,/E,C:\
IPconfig Display Internet connection information Make a shortcut to %SystemRoot%\system32\cmd.exe; then right-click the shortcut, select Properties > Shortcut and set Target to %SystemRoot%\system32\cmd.exe /k ipconfig /all
Disk Management Manage attached disk drives Make a shortcut to %SystemRoot%\system32\diskmgmt.msc
Event Viewer Examine system and application error logs Make a shortcut to %SystemRoot%\system32\eventvwr.msc
System Properties Manage Windows properties Start > Control Panel > System
(or press Windows key + Pause/Break key)
Display Properties Manage Desktop and display properties Start > Control Panel > Display
Windows 10:  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 Make a shortcut to %SystemRoot%\notepad.exe
Windows Media Player Play audio and video files Start > type "media" in Search box > Windows Media Player
PrntScrn Copy the Desktop to the clipboard PrntScrn key   (may be spelled differently on your PC)
Alt-PrntScrn Copy the active window to the clipboard Alt + PrntScrn key   (may be spelled differently on your PC)
Fn-Window-Space Create a PNG image of the Desktop in the user's Pictures/Screenshots directory Fn + Windows + Space key
Snipping Tool Capture parts of the display as image files Start > type "snipping tool" in Search box > Snipping Tool
Problem Steps Recorder Records steps as a procedure is executed to provide documentation for recreation Start > type "problem steps" in Search box > Record steps 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.mozilla.org/products/thunderbird
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
ShellFolderFix Fixes a Windows problem: makes system remember windows sizes and positions www.sevenforums.com/customization/40916-shellfolderfix-manage-folder-window-positions-size.html
Secunia PSI Personal Software Inspector (PSI) checks to see if your software has the latest security patches secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal
CCleaner Cleans registry and removes extraneous files www.piriform.com/ccleaner
Speccy Displays PC configuration details www.piriform.com/speccy
Filezilla Uploads/downloads files using FTP protocols filezilla.sourceforge.net
Adobe Acrobat Reader DC Displays PDF files www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html
Adobe Flash Player Runs Adobe Flash programs get.adobe.com/flashplayer
Adobe Shockwave Player Runs Adobe Shockwave programs get.adobe.com/shockwave
Apple QuickTime Plays many types of media files www.apple.com/quicktime
Java JRE Java Runtime Environment www.java.com/en/download/index.jsp
Regina REXX script interpreter regina-rexx.sourceforge.net
Google Earth Displays maps www.google.com/intl/en/earth/index.html
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
Belarc Advisor Displays PC hardware and software information www.belarc.com/free_download.html
DBAN Wipes a hard drive completely and securely dban.sourceforge.net
Word Viewer Allows viewing (but not modifying) Word files Search for "Word Viewer" in Microsoft Download Center
Excel Viewer Allows viewing (but not modifying) Excel files Search for "Excel Viewer" in Microsoft Download Center
PowerPoint Viewer Allows viewing (but not modifying) PowerPoint files Search for "PowerPoint Viewer" in Microsoft Download Center
AutoHotkey Lets you map strings and programs to keys ahkscript.org
AutoRuns for Windows Displays Windows system information, e.g., what programs are started automatically when you logon technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb963902.aspx
Hasher Generates and compares MD5 and SHA signatures for files and strings www.karenware.com/powertools/pthasher.asp
Directory Printer Prints a list of files in a directory tree www.karenware.com/powertools/ptdirprn.asp
URL Discombobulator Decrypts mysterious URLs www.karenware.com/powertools/ptlookup.asp
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 Bare Metal (BIBM)
(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/en-us/default.aspx
Start10
(Stardock)
Replacement in Windows 10 the Windows 10 Start button stardock.com/products/start10/
Optical disc writing products
Nero, Roxio
Write CDs and DVDs ww2.nero.com/enu/index.html
www.roxio.com

Internet Access

I use Road Runner (Spectrum cable) to access the Internet at home: https://www.spectrum.com/?cmp=TWC.

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 an Arris/Motorola Surfboard cable modem: www.surfboard.com/.

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

Some Useful Web Sites

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


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