Tutorial

Schedule Automated Backups on Windows using SyncToy

Posted in Blog, Tech, Tutorial on June 18th, 2010 by Matt – 1 Comment

"You do have backups... right?" Thats a phrase I've asked often and rarely gotten a "yes" reply. If your computer completely died tomorrow, would you be prepared?

With USB disk drive prices falling lower and lower every day, there's no reason not to have your important documents backed up. For users of Apple's Mac OSX, the process for setting up a full backup of their computer is a simple as plugging in a USB disk and telling the prompt that, yes, you want to use the disk for backing up. Under Microsoft's Windows there's never been a simple method. As far as most users know the only way to backup is to manually copy and paste their files onto a USB drive occasionally. They usually start doing this manual backing up after a loss of some sort, then gradually let their guard down until they're no better off than before. If you're one of those users who doesn't backup, here's a solution to your backup needs.

By the end of this tutorial you will have fully automated backups of your "My Documents" folder to a USB hard drive.

A note: This backup method keeps an exact copy of your My Documents folder and all changes you make to it on an external drive. If you accidentally delete a file from your My Documents, it will be deleted off of the backup USB drive. However it will automatically put a copy of the file in your Recycle Bin should you need to recover it.

We're going to need one piece of hardware and one piece of software for this setup. The hardware will consist of a USB hard disk drive attached to your computer. The software we're going to use is Microsoft's SyncToy utility. Download it here: SyncToy from Microsoft and install it. Installing it is straight foward, hit "I Accept" a few times, check a box and then hit "Next" a few times. After you've installed it, go into your Start menu and open it.

This is the screen you're greeted with when you first run SyncToy. The way SyncToy works is you set up "pairs" of folders. A "left" folder and a "right" folder. You can then set up three different ways for those folders to backup and copy files from one folder to the other. Click "Create New Folder Pair" to set up our first backup.

The left folder is the source you want to backup. Since our goal is to backup our whole My Documents folder, our My Documents folder is what we need to select. Click Browse under the left folder side then highlight "My Documents" if your on Windows XP or your user name if your on Windows Vista or 7 and then hit "OK".

Now we need to select the "Right Folder" for where are backed up files will go to. In this case thats going to be our external hard drive. Hit Browse under the right folder side click the little plus sign or arrow next to "My Computer" then highlight your USB drive. The drive will most likely have  "E:" or "G:" name next to it. Now click the "Make New Folder" button so we have a place for all of our files to go. Give the folder a useful name like "My Documents Backup" and then hit "OK". Now hit next to move on to the next step.

This screen is where we setup how we want the folder pairs to backup and copy files from our "left folder" to our "right folder". We have three options: Synchronize, Echo and Contribute. The only one we care about for this tutorial is Echo. Echo will backup all of our files from our My Documents onto the USB drive. Select it and hit next.

The following is a description of the three backup method options. You can skip on to the next paragraph if you are just interested in getting the tutorial setup. Read on if you want to be able to use the SyncToy utility in a more advanced method.

  • Synchronize: This option will set up your folder pair so that any change you make to a file in either the left or right folder will be mirrored into the other folder. Example using this tutorial: If you add, delete or change a file off of the USB drive, it would add, delete or change it in of your My Documents.
  • Echo: This option is the traditional backup method. All file additions, deletions and changes in your left folder are mirrored over to your right folder. Any additions in your right folder will be ignored. Example: You add a file on My Documents, it gets copied to the USB drive. You change a file on the USB drive, the original from My Documents replaces it. You delete a file from the USB drive, it gets placed back from My Documents.
  • Contribute: This is exactly the same as Echo except it never deletes anything from the right folder (USB drive in our example). This may be the best backup method. If you accidentally delete a file from your My Documents, you can recover it from the USB drive since nothing is ever deleted from it. The only problem is it will eventually fill up your USB drive and you will need to clear out older files.

Name your folder pair. Give it a decent name like "My Documents Backup" and hit Finish.

Huge Success!

All finished! No you can hit the Run button to run your first backup.

To automate the backups we need to schedule them using the Task Scheduler.

Schedule SyncToy Sync Task in Windows Vista and Windows 7

  1. Click on the Start menu, then select All Programs – Accessories – System Tools – Task Scheduler.
  2. Click on Create Basic Task in the “Actions” pane on the right.
  3. In the “Create Basic Task Wizard”, type in a Name and Description. For example: My Documents Backup.
  4. Click on Next button.
  5. Choose the frequency of when do you want the task to start. Daily is a good choice.
  6. Click on Next button.
  7. Set a Start Time leave the start date alone. I would set the start time of 1am.
  8. Click on Next button.
  9. In the “Action” step, select Start a Program as the option for the task to perform.
  10. Click on Next button.
  11. Under “Program/Script”, click on Browse button and locate the SyncToyCmd.exe. It’s located in “C:\Program Files\SyncToy 2.1\SyncToyCmd.exe”
  12. In the “Add Arguments” textbox, type "-R" without the quotation marks.
  13. Click Finish!

Schedule a SyncToy Task in Windows XP

  1. Go to the Start menu, select All Programs – Accessories – System Tools – Scheduled Tasks.
  2. Select Add scheduled task to start the Scheduled Task Wizard. You will see a list of possible programs to run.
  3. Select SyncToy from that list.
  4. The wizard will next prompt you to enter how often you want to run the scheduled SyncToy. Select Daily.
  5. The next page asks when to start the task. Select a start time, I recommend 1am.
  6. The next page asks for the user name and password to run the program under. If you have one, enter your password you use to log onto Windows. Otherwise click Next.
  7. The final page contains an option to open the properties dialog when the wizard ends. Select this checkbox.
  8. In the pop-up box, go to the end of the Run textbox and add " -R" (notice the first space) without the quotation marks, after the last quotation mark already in the Run field.
  9. Click OK!

All finished!

You now have fully automated backups of your My Documents folder onto a USB disk drive. This exact same tutorial can be modified using you My Pictures folder or My Music folder instead of My Documents if all you want to backup is your pictures or music or any other folder on your computer.

Now no more worries about weather your documents, pictures and music are backed up.

How-to Split, Merge, Rotate and Re-Order PDF Files

Posted in Blog, Tech, Tutorial on June 16th, 2010 by Matt – Be the first to comment

It sounds like a trivial task, breaking up or splitting a pdf document in to multiple pages, but without Adobe Acrobat Pro, it can be quite hard to find a utility that does this well. Luckily I've just stumbled upon a great solution. The best part is, its free.

PDF Split and Merge

PDF Split and Merge (aka PDFsam) is a great little open source utility that does just what its name implies. As well as splitting and merging it can rotate pdf pages or merge two pdf documents together.

PDF Split and Merge Interface

While PDFsam is free, and 100% functional, they do have an "enhanced" version that includes the ability to encrypt pdf documents. The cost? $1. Totally worth it.

Using PDF Split and Merge is straight forward. Just select the function you'd like to preform from the left hand side, select the file you want to change and set a few options. If you're splitting a file, you can choose to split every page into its own pdf document, split just the even or odd pages out or split it after a certain number of pages.

Also included is a nifty visual page reordering. You can view all the pages in your source PDF document then just drag and drop the just the pages you want into whichever order you'd like.

PDF Split and Merge Document Page Reordering

This is a great utility that provides some of the function of the multi-hundred dollar Adobe Suite. And remember this is an Open Source (aka free) project. Give the developers some money if you appreciate their product.

PDF Split and Merge is available here: PDFsam

Installing Google Earth as a Non-Administrator

Posted in Blog, Tech, Tutorial on June 4th, 2010 by Matt – 8 Comments

Many of the users I support use Google Earth on a day to day basis. With previous versions maintaining the installs was a pain. It required me to install the program as an administrator and make sure it worked. In some previous versions I also had an intermittent issue where Google Earth would place files that all users needed to access in the profile under which the program was installed. Then when there were updates, I had to run those as well.

Here's the solution; Use the non-administrative user install for Google Earth. Too bad it's hard to find.

Within the last two versions Google has added a feature to Google Earth to install under a user's profile folder and not into the Program Files folder. This means users do not need admin privileges to install. Unlike Google Chrome, the non-admin installer is not the default for Google Earth and they've made finding it difficult.

To get the per-user installation of Google Earth you need to click on the "advanced setup" link under the regular download page for Google Earth. From there you need to un-check the "make Google Earth available to all users profiles" option. Then click download and install.

Downloading the Non-Admin Installer for Google Earth

Since our internet access is filtered to block dl.google.com, and the default Google Earth installer attempts to download some files as it installs, I get an 0x80040508 installation error. The solution to this error is to download the full version of Google Earth that does not attempt to download some files at run-time. This is also known as "offline installer". To get this version uncheck the box "Allow Google Earth to automatically install recommended updates" when under the "advanced setup" section as above.

I'm not sure why Google Earth doesn't do as Chrome does and just offer the non-administrative install by default.

Stream Music To Your Home Theater Wirelessly

Posted in Blog, Tech, Tutorial on June 1st, 2010 by Matt – 8 Comments

Big home theater systems are now ubiquitous. Everyone seems has at least a 5 to 7 speaker setup with big subwoofers. Yet, why is it that when I go over to someones house, they have their computer speakers cranked up playing either iTunes or Pandora Radio and their big theaters idle? I asked around. Most people never thought about it. In their minds their computers and home theaters were two separate systems. They don't have to be.

Here's a how-to that covers getting music from your computer to any stereo system with a focus on simplicity that anyone can set up.

Before we jump into this, we need to talk about what kind of equipment you already have. For the sake of brevity I'm going to assume you already have a computer, a wireless network and a home theater. If you have all that then lets move on, if not, then get that setup and continue from here.

Here's how its going to work:

We're going to put a program on your computer that will send the music over the wireless network to a device plugged into your home-theater.

AirPort Express To Home-Theater Streaming Diagram

Other than the equipment you already have, we're going to need one piece of hardware and one piece of software.

The hardware consists of an Apple Airport Express and one audio cable. Apple's Airport Express has a number of features. It can extend your current wireless network to cover more area, host a printer, host a USB hard drive, be used as a cat5 to wireless bridge or stream music over your wired or wireless network.

Setting up the Airport Express is easy, plug it in to a socket, hook up the cable for audio to your home theater and run the included software CD on your computer. During the initial setup you'll give the Airport Express a name (a good name is where the unit is located, in case you end up with a bunch of these), tell it to join your existing wireless network and give it the network password if you have one. That's all there is to it.

The Airport Express supports two audio output methods: via 3.5mm headphone jack or 3.5mm optical output. The simplest method is a male to male 3.5mm headphone jack cable if your receiver has 3.5mm jack input. My home theater does not, so I went with a 3.5mm headphone to dual stereo RCA connectors. When in doubt, go with the RCA cables, every home-theater supports them.

3.5mm Headphone Male to Male

3.5mm Headphone Male to Dual Stereo RCA Male

If you want true digital audio to your home-theater, go with the optical audio option. You'll need a funky cable that's specific to Apple audio output. Optical cables work exactly like other cables, but they use light pulses instead of electrical pulses to transmit signal. Just plug one end into the Airport Express's output and the other to your optical input on your home theater receiver.

Apple Mini Optical to Toslink

That covers the hardware setup. Now we need to get a program that will send audio to the Airport Express from our computer. We have a couple of options.

iTunes: Since the Airport express is an Apple product, iTunes has support for it built right into it. Just play music like you normally do in iTunes, then look in the bottom right corner of your iTunes window. There will be a little box (unhelpfully not labeled) that defaults to "Computer". Click in the box and select the name that you chose earlier for the Airport Express.

Speaker Output Selection in iTunes

The downside of iTunes is you can only stream music you have currently in your library. What if you wanted to stream music from Pandora, Last.fm or Sirius Satellite Radio's web interface? You'll need something different.

Rogue Amobea's AirFoil: This gem of a program is available for Mac or PC and enables you to stream the audio output of any program on your computer to an Airport Express unit or other computer with the AirFoil software running.

Rogue Amobea's Airfoil

It's another one of those programs that I consider a "must buy". Nothing else I've used has come close in terms of quality and reliability. To use: You select the name of the program who's audio you want from a drop down box. Then select click on the speaker icon next to the speakers you want the sound to come out, in this case that would be our Airport Express. Away you go.

Now you too can have great party tricks like taking a laptop out by the pool and change the song, play a different internet radio station or adjust the volume. All without going inside. Or use Apple's iTunes remote software, available in the App Store, to change the volume or song currently streaming from iTunes. All from your iPhone or iPod touch.

For the price of $125 you can have any music you can play on your laptop or desktop computer streamed to your home theater and I bet it wasn't as difficult to set up as you were expecting.

The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Usenet aka Newsgroups

Posted in Blog, Tech, Tutorial on May 18th, 2010 by Matt – 5 Comments

What is usenet?

Usenet launched in 1980 as an alternative to the BBS boards of the day. Usenet provided a distributed decentralized discussion board that could be expanded to host many users. This was counter to the common BBS boards that generally were a single server that everyone could connect to. Usenet was designed to only host text content (7-bit ascii), but some enterprising users found that if you encode a binary file into ascii you could upload it and share it with everyone. Enough history, today binary uploads on usenet dwarf simple text posting. And if you're reading this you're more interested in the binary files than the text.

How is usenet different from torrents?

Torrents work via peer to peer (p2p). Lets say we had a group of computers that all want a complete copy of a file. A couple computers have the complete file, a couple have only a piece of the file and others have none of it. Everyone in the group talks to everyone else to get the pieces they need untill everyone has a complete copy. Everyone uploads, everyone downloads. Everyone is a peer and everyone is equal.

Usenets works via a combination of peer to peer and peer to server. As far as you and other usenet users are concerned, usenet works only peer to server. You connect to a single server who sends you everything you want. There are a core group of servers that share back and fourth amongst each similarly to torrents. A user needs only to have an agreement with one of these servers to download from.

Usenet Topology, from Wikipedia

Everything on usenet servers are hosted in a category grouping structure. The category group names start with a main subject then drill down by more specific subjects each separated by periods. Examples: comp.os.linux.misc would be a group about miscellaneous Linux Operating system discussion. sci.physics.relativity would be group about scientific discussion of the physics of relativity. Almost all of the files that are now uploaded are upload to the alt.binaraies.* groups like alt.binaries.movies.hd would be hd movies.

Files uploaded to usenet are usually cut into many individual pieces called rar files. They also come with repair parts called par2 files. If you download a whole set of rar files, but one of them was bad. You can use the par2 files to repair the rar files. Sometimes this is done automatically by the software you use to download. This is covered more in-depth below.

The usenet process.

  1. Determine what you want to download.
  2. Use an indexing service to find the files on your usenet server, or browse with the usenet client software to find the files.
  3. Use client software to download the files from your usenet provider.
    (These will be in the format of .rar and .par2 files)
  4. Repair and extract the files you download.
    (This is sometimes done automatically by your client software)
  5. Enjoy your content.

Requirements to access usenet.

An agreement with a server or host. You used to be able to get free usenet access from your ISP, but in the past few years most ISPs have ditched this in favor of cost savings. Now you're going to have to pay someone for the privileged to connect to their servers.

A client program to connect to your providers servers and actually download the files.

And optionally, a service that will provide you with listings of whats currently on usenet.

Differences between usenet providers?

Every provider is going to give you "access" to usenet, but what really matters are the features they offer.

Retention: Usenet posts don't last forever and different servers keep the posts for different periods of time, mostly measured in days. These periods range from a month up to almost two years. The more popular providers offer longer periods of retention.

Speed: Each service offers a different number of connections to their server. I admit this is odd, why they don't simply offer xx MB/s of download speed I don't know. Using my current usenet provider each single connection goes 130 kb/s. So I only need 10 connections to max out my internet connections download speed. Every good provider offers 10-40 connections. So unless you have some crazy internet connection odds are any package will max your internet download speeds.

SSL: Encryption is a newer feature to usenet. Many ISPs are doing a lot of "traffic shaping". This means they take the obvious high-bandwidth applications and slow them down. For example, usenet and torrents. Using SSL to encrypt your connection means the ISP can't tell what you're sending and receiving to their servers. Meaning they may avoid throttling it down since a lot of businesses send important encrypted traffic.

As of this writing, two of the more popular usenet providers are AstraWeb and SuperNews. Each offering unlimited access for ~$10 a month post retention from 400-600 days, SSL encryption and enough connections to saturate even the best internet access. Everyone has an opinion as to which provider is better, ask around.

Choosing a usenet client.

Usenet clients actually do the connecting and downloading from your providers servers. They're the piece of software you'll be spending most of the time on. Some people swear by one program or another, but for the most part their actual functionality is very similar.

Some clients will allow you to browse usenet posts while others will only download files. Some clients will extract and repair the files you download while others will require you to use a different program for this. And lastly, some are free and some are not. Heres a list of some of the more common clients.

Windows Clients:

Grabbit: It's free, can browse usenet for posts, can post and it can repair and extract.
NewsLeecher: Costs $20, can browse for posts, can post and can repair and extract. Has a better built in search and better interface than Grabbit.

Mac Clients:

Unison: Costs $29, can browse for posts, can post and can repair and extract. This is IMO the best usenet client available under any platform and well worth the money.

Platform agnostic:

sabNZBd: Its free, works on Windows, Mac or Linux, can only download files, repair and extract. Some people swear by this, I personally prefer the other clients. sabNZBd is basically a website you set up on your local machine that handles all the downloading and extracting for you. You can even set up DNS access to have your machine download files no matter where you are.

Once you download one of these clients you'll need to enter the server settings of the usenet provider you chose earlier. This usually involves giving the program the name of the server, the address of the server, your username, your password and how many connections that server will allow you to make at one time.

Finding files to download.

If you have a usenet client that supports it, you can simply browse through the various groups and drill down till you find what you want. This is tedious, and since there aren't any specific rules about which things belong in which groups, it can be hard to find what you want. Most everyone chooses to use an index searching site.

There are two main categories of sites. Free and pay. The only difference is the pay sites usually have reviews of the files so you know you're downloading what you wanted and not malware. Recently, there's been a rash of password protected uploads on usenet. These files include links that want you to fill out a bunch of free trials on shady sites before they will give you the password. Using a pay search with file reviews can avoid these. If you get stuck with a passworded crap file, check out JimBeer's site.

Common free sites: BinSearch.info Newzleech.com NZBIndex.nl

Common pay sites: NZBMatrix.com NSBsRus.com

All these sites do is index the content on usenet, then offer you a list of these files so you can pick the ones you want. Usually you check mark the files you want and click "Create NZB". This creates a .nzb file that you download and open with your usenet client.

Whats an NZB file? Its similar to a .torrent file. An .nzb file contains a list of the files you want and the usenet groups that they're in. They're like maps for usenet.

Downloading files from usenet.

This is the easy part. Open the .nzb file you got earlier and the program should begin downloading.

Repairing and extracting downloads from usenet.

This is an area that usenet is really different from any other downloading service. Most content uploaded to usenet will be in multiple pieces. The benefit is that if any one or two pieces are broken or corrupt, it's much simplier to download or repair those small pieces rather than a single large file.

When you download something from usenet, you'll download a set of files like this:

moviename.rar.part1
moviename.rar.part2
moviename.rar.part3
and
moviename.vol01+02.par2
moviename.vol03+04.par2.

The .rar files are just your big single file cut into a bunch of little pieces. The .par2 files are repair files. Let's say you download all of those files and only moviename.rar.part2 was broken. With other services you'd have to re-download everything or try a different file, but since you have the .par2 repair files, you can fix that file so that all that downloading didn't go to waste.

Most newer usenet clients do all of this automatically for you. You'll never even have to worry about it. However, I personally like to disable the automatic repair and extract function of the usenet clients and use third party utilities. The third party utilities usually faster and offer a better view of what files are broken if I need to re-download a single .rar.part. Here's a list of various repair and/or extract software for Windows and Mac.

Windows:
QuickPar Repair with par2 files only. It's pretty much the only decent software for .par2 files on Windows. Fast and works great.
WinRAR Extract rar files only. Its the best at what it does, extracting content from .rar files. Between these two programs you should be set under Windows.

Mac:
MacPAR deLuxe
Repairs with par2 and Extract from rar files. I wish it was also for Windows. Its a fantastic all-in-one solution. I have had it choke on password protected rar files before.
UnRarX Extract from rar only. Not fancy or graphical but gets the job done and supports passworded files better than MacPAR.
The Unarchiver Extract from rar files only. I've never used it before but stumbled on it while researching.

Huge Success!

That should set you well on your way to usenet. It can be daunting at first, but once you understand it, there's nothing better. I encourage people to take the time to really understand usenet. Use that client and browse through the various alt.binaries groups. There is a lot of content that none of the indexers get to. A lot of stuff hidden away. Don't forget, usenet is not one-way. You can post. Trudge over to the "Big 8" sections of usenet and discuss. If you would like a file posted, ask. Odds are someone will post it for you. I hope this helps you get started. Feel free to pass it on or post a question.

http://www.nzbsrus.com/

Simple Instructions to Clean Fake Anti-Virus Malware

Posted in Blog, Tech, Tutorial on May 14th, 2010 by Matt – 4 Comments

I've been getting more requests recently to clean these fake anti-virus or anti-spyware hi-jack programs off of computers. I don't mind the business these programs generate, but most people don't realize how simple these infections can be to clean. Here's a process that I've been distributing for users to try out before paying for professional assistance.

One example of the many variations of fake anti-virus programs.

First, download this program: SUPERAntiSpyware Portable Scanner. If your computer won't let you access this site, you may need to use another computer to download the program file. Put the program on a thumb drive and plug it into your infected computer.

Try to run the program. If the program fails to run it's possible that the malware is actively blocking it. If the program won't run we need to boot into safe mode.

To get to safe mode:
Restart your computer and tap the "F8" key while it turns on.
You should get a text screen with options.
Use the arrow keys to highlight the "Safe Mode with Networking" option.
Log in if neccasary, choose administrator if available.
Run the program from the thumb drive.

SuperAntiSpyware Portable Scanner

One you've started the program there will be an option to "Check for Updates", run that first. After it updates, click "Scan your Computer". Leave the settings at their default and click "Next".

The program will now scan your computer for malware. When it's finished scanning, it will show a list of things it found, hit Next or OK once or twice and it will automatically remove everything it found. Reboot your computer when asked.

Your computer should be clean now. If you find that you can't access the internet after being infected check this setting: Go to Start > Control Panel > Internet Options > Connections tab > LAN Settings > uncheck "Use a proxy server..." > check "Automatically detect settings" > Click OK > Click OK. That should restore your internet connectivity.

Lastly, a word about anti-virus. In late 2009 Microsoft released Microsoft Security Essentials Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware. I highly recommend it for two reasons. One, it works as well as any other commercially available anti-virus and its saved my butt a couple of times. Two, its free. Most users say "I have Symantec Anti-Virus, I don't need anything else!" or McAfee Anti-Virus, but they don't realize that as soon as your pay subscription expires, that stuff is useless.

Microsoft Security Essentials

The steps to install MSE are easy. First, uninstall any current anti-virus products you may have. If you have any issues removing a Symantec or Norton product use this program. Second download and install Microsoft Security Essentials. Its that easy and makes one less thing to worry about. Once you've updated to MSE, you'll know that any time you see a anti-virus warning window that does not say Microsoft, that it's fake.

If you ever have a doubt about a security pop-up, DON'T CLICK ANYTHING! They can fake the close buttons to actually run their bad stuff. When in doubt just shut down your computer. It will save a lot of headache in the long run.

Administration While Running as a Limited User

Posted in Blog, Tech, Tutorial on May 12th, 2010 by Matt – Be the first to comment

Around here we have a policy that administrative accounts cannot have web access. This prevents many of the common malware and virus issues. At first I spent a lot of time logging in and out of my machine, going from admin to regular user. Then I set up a spare computer that I could remote to to run administrative commands. Then I spent some time using the run-as command, typing my password every time I wanted to do something. Now I have a solution that lets me run as a limited user and still run administrative commands without any extra work.

Heres the end result:

Running as a limited user with a Admin level window

That's a limited user account logged on with an admin level window running. Anything launched from that window will have admin level authorization.

You might say "No big deal. You just used "run-as" on an explorer window." Indeed I did, but go ahead, try it on your machine. Didn't work did it? This had me stumped for ages. I could get this to work, but none of my coworkers could.

Here's how to get it to work:

First, we need to set both the admin and limited user accounts on the computer to run the explorer windows in separate processes. This is the key that lets you have side-by-side explorer windows with separate credentials. While logged on as each user, open up explorer (Windows + E) > Tools > Options > View > Check the box next to "Launch folder windows in a separate process".

Now we can set up the shortcut to spawn the window. You can, of course, have this launch just plain a plain old explorer window to "C:". However, when I want to run something as admin, it's usually in my administrative tools list. So here's the shortcut I use:

First, right-click and make a new short cut. Set this for the target for the shortcut:

C:\WINDOWS\system32\cmd.exe /c runas /user:domain\admin "explorer C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs\Administrative Tools"

Set the name to whatever you want. I use "Admin Run". Now lets give it a pretty icon. Right-click the shortcut >properties > Change Icon >then paste this in the "Look for icons" line and hit enter:

%SystemRoot%\system32\wpabaln.exe


Now whenever you click this newly made shortcut, you'll get a command prompt for your admin user password. Once you've authorized you'll get an administrator level window with all of your admin tools.

Just add shortcuts into your all users Administrative Tools list for those programs you'll also need to run as admin. I also added links for windows explorer:  (%windir%\explorer.exe) and for the command prompt (%windir%\system32\cmd.exe) considering how much I use them.

Now you too can run as a limited user account, yet still get administrative tasks completed without wasting a ton of time logging in and out or using run-as and typing your password all the time.

Email for Your Domain for Free

Posted in Tech, Tutorial on May 5th, 2010 by Matt – 1 Comment

This is part 3 of a series on Starting Your Own Website on the Cheap

Until recently setting up your own domain with email required having a business class internet connection, knowledge of how to set up a physical server and email server and someone to run the whole thing. No longer. Today anyone with a couple spare dollars can pick up their own domain and have their own custom email addresses up and running in mere minutes. If you've been following along in this series then you've already purchased a domain and set up DNS for it. Now were going to set up email.

You can, of course, roll your own email server. Just add your home server IP as the MX (Mail Exchange) record on your DNS providers site, set up an email server and away you go. However, even if you are a skilled administrator, I wouldn't recommend this. With spam emails representing 50-60% of all emails, running your own server is just asking for spam headaches.

Two of the webs largest email providers, Microsoft and Google now offer their own free email for domain services. Microsoft now offers Windows Live Admin Center and Google offers Google Apps. There are quite a few differences in their features offered between the services. Microsoft's services is a little easier to use and a little less business oriented. There are a few decisions to make about which features are critical to you in order to determine which provider is right for you. Do you care about exchange connectivity? The benefit of the exchange protocol is its push email, calendar and contact syncing. Oddly enough, it's Microsoft's service that does not offer exchange connectivity for their Live Mail services. For me Exchange connectivity is important. It keeps my email, calendar and contacts synced perfectly across my iPhone, laptop and desktop. Who's web email interface do you prefer? Its a small issue, but if you're a regular email user it can make a difference. Myself, I prefer Google's web interface. Last, do you plan to expand? Google's Apps service can be upgraded in-place to more professional levels with guaranteed levels of uptime and 24/7 support. The only place I feel Google's service falls short of Microsoft's is in accessing their webmail interfaces. In order to log on to the Google Apps webmail interface, users need to navigate to google.com/a/yourdomain.com then login with their credentials. While with Microsoft's webmail users can simply navigate to mail.live.com or even hotmail.com and login with their credentials. Why Google doesn't simply let users go to gmail.com and login with the alternative credentials is beyond me. This could be a moot issue since both services have the option of setting up cname (alias) records so that you can access their mail login interfaces at something like mail.yourdomain.com.

Once you've decided on a particular service the initial setup is fairly straight foward on both services. Google requires you to enter a custom string into your DNS cname or "alias" record to prove you control the domain. Microsoft checks that you've set their mail servers addresses for your domains MX (mail exchange) record before they let you create accounts. Once you've confirmed to each provider you hold the domain and enter in their mail servers in your DNS MX records you can begin creating users via each providers admin interface.

Microsoft's Windows Live Admin Center Interface

Microsoft's Windows Live Admin Center Interface

The admin interfaces reflect the level of features offered by each service. The Windows Live Admin interface is very simple with only three main options areas: adding new users, enabling "open enrollment" and some options for custom logos on the webmail interface. Click the "Add User" button, enter in the account name and user name, and you're off and running. The "open enrollment" option allows anyone to create an email address under your domain, a  handy feature not offered by Google.

Google Apps Admin Interface

Google Apps Admin Interface

The Google interface is more robust with many tabs and sections to cover the various features offered. Fortunately, adding users is just as simple a task as with Microsoft. With Google you have to understand that this is indeed Google "Apps" not just Google Email. There are options for calendars, logo customization, document sharing, member groups and sites.

Now for a $10 investment you've got your very own personal domain with any email address you could want.

Previously -
Part 1: Finding and Purchasing a Domain
Part 2: DNS for Your Domain for Free