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Archive for the ‘software’ Category

Use the Windows Embedded Theme on XP and Server 2003 (without patching)

with 7 comments

Windows XP has to be the most tweakable and skinnable piece of software ever created. Of course, how to compete with such a dominant and widely used operating system, but then again it might also be its light blue fisher price-like theme that gets in everybody’s nerves eventually.

For some of us, upgrading to Vista has been somewhat of a relief. The rest of Windows users still using XP have probably either gone back to the silver boxy Windows or relied on official or third party patching for getting the job done. Unfortunately last time I checked (a couple of years ago), even the most elaborate skins for popular applications like WindowBlinds lack the finish and subtlety I require.

But don’t despair. My advice, use some of the Microsoft-made themes that replace the original blue theme and make for a much better impression than the built-in silver or green themes.

Windows Embedded Theme for Windows XP/2003

Previously available themes include:
Royale
Royale Noir (by far my favorite)
Zune theme

Now also available (thanks to Sizzled Core), the Windows Embedded theme that uses a strong blue but still looks quite good IMO.

Notice neither of these require UxTheme.dll patching or other workarounds.

Written by Julio Franco

October 13th, 2008 at 6:40 am

Crysis Warhead No Intro Fix

with 3 comments

Quick and dirty, I have modified the original Crysis no intro fix for the recently released Warhead which has 2 more intro screens that unlike the original game are not skippable as far as I know. Almost as annoying as forcing your paying customers that DRM crap. And while at that, I should mention the DRM is pretty decent in Warhead, not requiring you to put the DVD in the drive each time you want to play.

Click here to download the patch, unrar it into the games installation directory at: \Game\Localized\Video and then run remove.intro.crysis.warhead.bat

The only thing it does is renaming all files beginning with “Trailer” so you might as well just delete them all and be done with it ;)

Written by Per Hansson

September 19th, 2008 at 12:48 pm

Google’s Chrome share of views at TechSpot, surpasses Opera

with 3 comments

Google Analytics started tracking Chrome visitors just recently which can give us a preliminary but still very incomplete view of the market share the search giant has been able to build from scratch, out of a very celebrated launch of the browser.

As I commented earlier on, this will have to be measured on the short term of at least a couple of months instead of a few days.

For sure Google has got the word out big time, but real success comes when people actually stick to the browser rather than trying it out for a little while and going back to their usual browser of choice.

Here’s some stats from TechSpot visitors for the past couple of days…

Chrome browser share

Chrome browser share

Written by Julio Franco

September 5th, 2008 at 4:30 am

Two great time-saving tips for Firefox 3

with one comment

You have likely heard it a million times already, Firefox 3 is a very nice improvement over version 2, especially in the performance department. And while many still prefer to stick to their own improved versions of Opera and Safari (sorry IE, you are a disgrace right now), Firefox is by far the most used alternative browser. I believe that comes in part thanks to its flexibility for customization and the myriad of useful add-ons you can get for it.

I can’t stress enough the add-on part. From webmaster tools, to simple functionality tweaks and social networking integration. My following tips, however, lay on the side of about:config tweaks (that is, you have to manually apply these yourself in the settings registry by running the about:config command on the address bar). So here we go:

Search from the address bar
Firefox brought wide support for the secondary search field that will directly Google anything you type, however I found asking myself, why two text fields? Why not re-use the address bar, so it will go to full URLs directly or will Google any other keywords I type in there (by default Firefox uses Google’s I’m feeling lucky option = going to the first search result directly, which I don’t think is ideal most of the time).

You can change this behavior by entering the about:config command in the address bar, then filter the preference list by typing keyword. The option called keyword.URL should appear. Change its value from the default to:
http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=

That should do the trick. Now Google directly from the main address bar.

Make zoom settings tab independent
Firefox 3 upgrades zoom functionality present in previous versions by replacing font-only zoom to full page zoom which scales images and all other page properties. This may work to your advantage most of the time, but if you have many tabs opened for the same site, Firefox will think you want to zoom-in in all those tabs under the same domain. Personally I find this annoying.

So, enter the config zone and look up for the entry called browser.zoom.siteSpecific, then set it to False. This will prevent the browser from automatically zooming in all tabs from the same website.

Bonus tip
Did you know that you don’t have to type “www” or “.com” every time you enter an address? For example, just type “techspot” in the address bar, then use Ctrl + Enter to make it a full .com URL.

Written by Julio Franco

June 29th, 2008 at 4:14 am

Tab Mix Plux extension for Firefox 3 Beta

with 3 comments

If you have moved on to use Firefox 3 Beta 5 (as I recommended) then you know how much speed was left untapped with previous versions of the browser. There are still a quite a few popular extensions that are not compatible however, Tab Mix Plus, being perhaps one of the most general purpose and useful out there.

But worry no more. If you don’t mind the beta-over-beta code you will be running, there is an experimental version of the add-on available for Firefox 3 Beta 5 that seems to be working just fine. This still has not been posted to the official Mozilla add-ons site, so it’s a little gem I had to share. Enjoy.

Written by Julio Franco

May 10th, 2008 at 8:54 pm

Speed up Vista using Firefox 3 Beta

with one comment

If like me, you spend a sizable amount of your computer time on a web browser, you can forget about RAM or processor upgrades, it’s software where the hole was all this time.

First let me tell you that I’m an avid fan of trying new web browsers, or at least new versions of today’s traditional browsers like Firefox, Opera, IE and Safari, that includes betas and release candidates. But because I had grown so comfortable with my Firefox extensions and overall set up, I was ultimately drawn away from using experimental builds on a daily basis. It’s not until lately that I have seen a large number of Firefox add-ons ported to the Beta version (currently Beta 4) and so I thought it was time for another spin.

Seriously, the browser is speedy. I had previously experienced the improvements in Beta 1, I got a few random crashes then, but no more. I can tell you that on my desktop machine that is currently running Windows Vista on an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600, I’m feeling a difference in speed that is way more palpable than when I upgraded from a dual core Athlon CPU, I had less RAM and was running on an older platform. I also have most of my extensions installed, so the comparison is more or less apples to apples. With a load of tabs divided in two windows, and many other programs running at the same time, the mere change in browser suddenly is making for a much smoother working experience.
In fact, I’m currently writing this on Firefox 3 Beta 4 Portable which let’s me run a standalone copy of the browser without sacrificing my older Firefox 2 install, so in case I want to roll back, it’s a non-issue.

I have also tried Internet Explorer 8 in Vista and it does offer similar speed improvements. Likewise, Safari 3.1 on OS X also welcomed me with better performance, but neither of those can replace Firefox for me. Opera lovers must also forgive me but I have not downloaded the latest Opera version yet, although just this past weekend I saw fellow editor Erik Orejuela running a gazillion tabs on it, probably more than Firefox 2 can handle without crashing (he switched after the 2.0.11 fiasco).

My recommendation, give Firefox 3 beta a try now and see how it works for you. Many of the most popular extensions are now usable on the beta (BTW, there is a newly revamped add-ons site). Somehow it seems all browser developers felt the need for speed on this iteration, so you can choose your browser flavor if FF is not your thing.

Written by Julio Franco

March 31st, 2008 at 4:55 am

Vista crashing in the most simple of tasks

with 8 comments

So let me rant for a bit. After defending Windows Vista, not because I like Microsoft but because based on my experiences I have had relatively few problems with the OS, last night I saw it giving me a deja vu of the early Win95 days!

A solid install of Vista now running SP1 was put to the test… burning a data DVD with 1GB worth of files. The result? A 15 minute wait, followed by a hard crash (that is, I had to manually shut down my system to restart). I can forgive all the driver incompatibilities you want, but DVD burning? Good thing, Nero finally works well with Vista.

Written by Julio Franco

March 20th, 2008 at 10:29 pm

POPFile, the best free spam filter bar none

with 5 comments

While I find Gmail’s spam filter pretty adequate, for people with POP email accounts, or even worse, POP accounts that have to be visible on the web (like my techspot.com address), fighting spam can become quite the nightmare. Even with some server-side software setup, spammers can learn the software’s filtering behavior and bypass it easily. Just the same thing happens with blacklists.

Say hello to POPFile, an open-source automatic mail classification tool that just works (after some training).

I can’t remember why exactly, but I stopped using POPFile sometime in the last two years, perhaps spammers stopped liking my address and I saw no use for it anymore. Digging out through TechSpot’s archives I found that I first recommended POPFile back in 2003. Now, I have been using it again for the past few months and after 3-5 days of training, the software is smart enough to tell between actual email from spam around 96% of the time.

In fact, POPFile works in such a way that you can configure various “buckets” or categories so it can classify your email in Outlook or any other desktop application you use upon delivery. Did I mention it’s cross-platform, too?

Out of the dozens of spam filters out there, only a handful are free and look trustworthy enough to me. POPFile has not changed much in the last few years, but that’s not a bad thing necessarily. Even with its rudimentary looks and slightly documentation, it’s a huge time saver once set up. Give it a try, put it to work, and let me know if you like it.

Written by Julio Franco

February 11th, 2008 at 2:58 am

How to run Windows Live Messenger on Windows XP x64 and Server 2003

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Sorry, Windows Live programs cannot be installed on Windows Server, Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, or Windows operating systems earlier than Windows XP Service Pack 2.

Being a new user of Windows XP x64 that message puts me off quite a bit, apparently Microsoft wants you to install the old and ugly MSN Messenger instead of Live Messenger if you happen to run the state of the art version of Windows XP. However, as you will see, Windows Live Messenger can be used in full, but Microsoft in its infinite wisdom just made the installer incompatible!

Live Messenger 8.0 seems to be the latest version on the Microsoft Download Center where support for Windows XP x64 is specifically mentioned. In version 8.1 only Server 2003 is mentioned. If you download v8.5 you will receive the message above during installation… Notice also that the size of the file is reduced considerably because this is just an installer that then downloads the features you choose to install.

On the official download page for Windows Live Messenger you can read this under requirements:

Windows 2003 Server and Windows XP x64 are not supported.

What is so ironic is that Windows Live Messenger is fully compatible with XP x64, as a matter of fact I’m using it right now. So what you have to do is download the file I mentioned that the unsupported installer downloads. Take note though that you will not get any prompts during the install, it is silent, since you are supposed to make those choices in the unsupported installer… What this means is that you are saved the trouble of unticking the boxes about installing MS toolbars and changing your browsers home page to the dreaded MSN sites.

Also worth mentioning is that Windows XP x64 shares its codebase with Windows Server 2003 x64 and even uses the same service packs!) So this should apply to Server 2003 as well, just like drivers for either OS work fine with each other.

You can download the bare MSI file of Windows Live Messenger v8.5.1302.1018 here. While you are at it check out A-Patch that allows you to disable many annoying features of MSN like advertising – it’s beyond me why MS advertises in their own client. And when you have come to your senses you can may as well download a decent chatting client instead ;).

Oh, and here is the command to uninstall the Windows Messenger (not the same as MSN Messenger OR Live Messenger) that is bundled by default with the OS. Just copy and paste the following into Start > Run and Windows Messenger will be gone: RunDll32 advpack.dll,LaunchINFSection %windir%\INF\msmsgs.inf,BLC.Remove

Written by Per Hansson

February 4th, 2008 at 11:55 am

Removing ATI’s Catalyst Control Center from the Windows context menu

with 11 comments

One of the worst things about bloated software is the addition of shortcuts and context menus that are better suited as opt-in features rather than self-imposed annoyances. So, call me a purist, but when I recently switched from a GeForce videocard to one of the newer Radeon HD boards, I hated to see a new context menu option added by ATI drivers that looks plain ugly with its red icon and too-wide-to-be-true length.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about…
ati-catalyst-control-center

Looking for a solution I stumbled upon this website that offers the quick & dirty tip, if you want to disable the new link:

Open regedit and go to:
KEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Directory\Background\shellex\ContextMenuHandlers\ACE
Then then remove the key named “ACE“.

Alternatively, you can download these registry files and run them to disable or enable back the ATI option.

Written by Julio Franco

January 31st, 2008 at 5:18 am