Sunday, 27 January 2013

Dropbox - A Backup Solution

Dropbox as an off-site backup

There are now a number of cloud storage services available for free. Amongst them are Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive. I have used and had good experiences with several but today I'd like to talk about Dropbox and using it as an off-site backup.

Dropbox is a service that will store up to 2GB of your files on line for free. If you need more space you have to pay for it. The service allows you to synchronize files between difference PCs and to access them via a web browser. I’m going to look at how we can use Dropbox as an online or cloud backup service. Out of the box Dropbox does not store your files securely, it does transfer them securely using encryption but once on Dropboxe's servers they could be accessed, for example, by a Dropbox employee. 

I’ll look at adding encryption to the mix in another Blog.
So lets get started by downloading the Dropbox installer from
Click on “Download Dropbox” on the bottom right of the web page


  Once downloaded run the installer, accept the user account control warning and follow the prompts given by the installer.

Leave the radio button on its default “I don’t have a Dropbox account” and click next.

Fill in the details to complete the form

Click Next

Chose Typical

Unless you want to access Dropbox on your phone click Next.

Step through the tour, it’s a good introduction to Dropbox

That’s the installation completed. You now have a Dropbox folder on your PC. The default location for Windows 7 is C:\Users\<your-login-name>\Dropbox .
There is also a new icon in your system tray for Dropbox. Double clicking on the icon will open your Dropbox folder. Any files you put in this folder are copied to the Dropbox servers giving you a backup in the cloud.

You can access your Dropbox folder from any web browser anywhere.
Open your email client and look for mail from Dropbox. Open that email and click on Get Started in the email.

This will take you to the Dropbox web site where you need to enter your email address and password to login.

You can retake the Dropbox tour anytime, it's accessible from you Dropbox web page and well worth it.

In a future blog I'll look at encrypting Dropbox files using Cloudfogger.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Windows 7 Backup

 Backup Files and Folders in Windows 7

Windows 7  backup and restore options can be found by going to Start, Control Panel, Backup and Restore . If that’s a bit too much like hard work you can just go to Start and in the Search Programs and Files window type in “Back” and select from the options Backup and Restore. This will open the window shown below.

On the center of the window in the Backup section select Change settings.
First we tell the program where to put the backup. I’m choosing my Western Digital My Passport USB hard disk here.

On the next window I select Let Me Chose. This will allow me not to make a System Image when I backup and allow me to chose which folders I want to add to the backup.

I'm going to chose to backup all my documents, those are in the folder called ENGINEERING\rolfe.james's libraries, 
and the folders called Data and Share

Click Next and before we save our settings Windows allows us to review them.

If you are happy with those choices click Save settings and exit


After saving our settings we are returned to the Backup and Restore window we started from. On here we select Backup now. Windows starts the backup and provides a helpful progress bar.

And that's it! Files and Folder backup with Windows 7 is simple and intuative.

There is also an option to schedule backups so it's hard not to do!


Windows 7 Built in Backup and System Image

Backing up is something we all know we should do but somehow we never quite get around to. With Windows 7 built-in backup there’s now no reason to put off backing up your data. Windows 7 comes not only with a simple and effective backup program but it also allows you to make a full image of your system. What’s the difference between backing up and imaging? Well put simply Windows 7 backup makes a copy of your Documents whilst Windows 7 System Image makes a complete copy of your hard drive. With the latter if something goes terribly wrong you can easily and relatively quickly put it all back as it once was. I said relatively… The advantage of Windows 7 Backup is that it is much faster. What I would recommend is that you image your system perhaps once every couple of months or just after installing some new software and that you backup your documents every day.

So how do we go about creating a System Image with Windows 7.

The backup and restore options can be found by going to Start, Control Panel, Backup and Restore . If that’s a bit too much like hard work you can just go to Start and in the Search Programs and Files window type in “Back” and select from the options Backup and Restore. This will open the window shown below.

To create a System image select Create a System Image from the top left of the window and in the next window choose where to save your image to.

In this example I am using an external hard drive, specifically a Western Digital My Passport USB 3 drive. The 1TB ones are now quite inexpensive and have tons of space. Should you want to you can create an image on a network drive or on DVD. But if you chose to make the image onto DVDs I suggest you make your self comfortable as it will take a while and a LOT of DVDs. In the next window you are shown what is going to be imaged and offered the option to include additional partitions. In this case I chose not to add the D partition to the image.

Click next and confirm your choices

And then start the backup

As the imaging process proceed Windows will show you its progress. Upon completion of the imaging process  you are asked if you want to create a System Repair disk. If you don’t already have one then make one now. You’ll need a DVD for this.

 Pop a DVD in and click Yes

Then click Create Disk

And that's it! Microsoft have made the process quite simple to follow.

Email me

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Hard Drive SMART Technology

Get S.M.A.R.T.

It’s  New Years day, a time when traditionally we decide to change. A time when many take up some sort of exercise, a time to get fit. But what about your poor old hard drive? Is it fit? How can you tell?
Well one way is to get S.M.A.R.T! No not the bumbling T.V. secret agent, S.M.A.R.T not Smart! 

There’s a good introduction to Self Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology on Wikipedia but it’s enough to know it a technology whose goal was to predict hard drive failure. 

Accessing S.M.A.R.T. information from you hard disk can be done by using smartmontools which are available for Windows, Mac, Linux and other OSes from Sourceforge.

smartctl -a /dev/hda
After downloading and installing smartmontools running smartctl –h will give a full list of available commands. 

Two useful commands are:
smartctl -t long /dev/hda which will run a ‘long’ test on the drive and
smartctl -a /dev/hda which will show a large amount of information about the drive and indicate any errors.

Smartmontools are great but it takes a little time to full grasp what they report. For those of us who like an easy life, and who does not! There is CrystalDiskInfo. It also provides a lot of information but it displays key information in a way that allows you to quickly ascertain the health of a disk. 

I favor the Portable Apps version as it does not need to be installed on a PC to run.

Monday, 31 December 2012

Keyboard Shortcuts For Windows

Windows Keyboard Shortcuts

Having started working with computers in the early DOS years using the keyboard to control a machine seems the natural thing to me.

A mouse is a necessary, fast and efficient way to control a graphical environment but the keyboard is still king!

The most commonly used shortcuts in Windows
<Key to use>
<Ctrl> + <c>
Copy selected item (file or text)
<Ctrl> + <v>
Paste copied item
<Ctrl> + <x>
Cut selected item (file or text)
<Ctrl> + <a>
Select all
<Ctrl> + <z>
Undo last action

In Microsoft Office and now most other programs
<Key to use>
<Ctrl> + <s>
<Ctrl> + <p>
<Ctrl> + <b>
<Ctrl> + <i>
<Ctrl> + <u>
<Ctrl> + <f>
Spell check
<Ctrl> + <z>

Some less well known but useful Windows shortcuts
<Key to use>
<Alt> + <F4>
Close current window or program
Refresh current window
<Ctrl> + <shift> + <esc>
Open Taskmanager
<Alt> + <tab>
Switch between running programs
Rename selected item
<F3>  (also <Ctrl> + <f>)

Windows Key Symbol
The ‘Windows Key’  adds some useful shortcuts
<Key to use>
<Win> + <r>
Show Run dialog box
<Win> + <m>
Minimise all open windows
<shift> + <Win> + <m>
Undo Minimise all
<Win> + <e>
Launch Windows Explorer
<Win> + <f>
Launch Windows search
<Win> + <l>
Locks the desktop

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pagefile Defrag

Defragging  Windows system files.

Something I didn’t cover in my last blog when discussing defragging Windows, was Windows system files such as the pagefile and registry hives.

The pagefile could be fragmented if its size is not fixed by Windows or if its size had been changed manually. The pagefile and the registry are not defragmented by most defraggers because they are in use when Windows is running.
A good tool for defragmenting the pagefile is PageDefrag from Sysinternals
Sysinternals PageDefrag
Sysinternals PageDefrag

  PageDefrag when it is run shows you how much fragmentation there is in the files that make up your registry hives and in the pagefile. You can choose to have PageDefrag defragment these files at next system boot by selecting the radio button ‘Defrag at next boot’ . When the PC is next started and before Windows loads PageDefrag will attempt to defragment the Windows system files and will report on the results.

It’s a great little tool that can be scripted or configured from its GUI. Sysinternals produce a great suite of free tools, often called as Pstools, that have been used for many years by computer support professionals. Contig is another defragemnting tool they produce. It's easy to use and is designed to defragment individual files but can be used to defrag whole disks. It also has the ability to defragement NTFS metadata files such as the Master File Table. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Windows Defrag

Defragmenting the Windows hard drive

 Defragmenting the hard drive. Before we go into defragmenting the hard drive it will be useful to explain what fragmentation is and how it occurs. On a hard disk information is stored in segments called sectors, each sector is 512 bytes in length. The Windows operating system stores files in units of multiple sectors called clusters or allocation units. Typically a cluster will be 4 kilo bytes. Files are placed on a Windows disk in the first available space and are allocated complete clusters. So if we have a file that is 1kb long it will occupy one cluster, a 5kb file would occupy two clusters a 21kb file will occupy six clusters. In a perfect world files would occupy consecutive clusters making ready and writing the files faster. As we use a computer we are continually adding and removing files. Consider what would happen in a simple system or three 3Kb files on a disk that had four clusters numbered one to four. Each file would occupy one cluster, file on occupying cluster one and file two occupying cluster two and so on. If we deleted the second file, cluster two would become empty, if we later added a fourth file that was 7Kb long. The fourth file would need to occupy two clusters. When we write the file the operating system will see cluster two as empty and write part of the file there. As the fourth file needs two clusters the second bit of file four would go into cluster four. The two parts of file four and not next to each other. We call this fragmentation. So now we know what fragmentation is and that it slows down the system, how do we get rid of it?

 Defragmenting a drive

 There are many freely available tools to defragment a drive, indeed Windows comes with the graphical Disk Defragmenter dfrgui.exe and the command line Defrag.exe. Both are good, free and already on your Windows PC!

Defraggler options
Defraggler options
However I prefer a third party tool called df.exe for scripting and defraggler as a gui tool. Both have more options than Windows built in defragmenters and both come from Piriform With Defraggler you can select to defrag file, folders or the entire drive. There are many options available. Defraggler is also portable. If a drive has not been defragmented previously, especially one that is heavily fragmented, say 20%, it will benefit from several consecutive runs of the defragger. What happens when you run a defragger is that the program woks out how best to shuffle the files around to achieve least fragmentation. It never does a perfect job, but each attempt will take it a step closer to that goal. Once you get down to say 5% fragmentation you are at the limits of practicability and will get diminishing returns for each re run.

So how often should you run a defrag, well that depends and really may be just a mater of opinion. I would suggest that once a drive is reasonably defragmented then keeping it that way can be achieved by defragging once every month or two.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Temp File Cleanup

Removing temporary files from a Windows PC

Temporary files are usually thought of as just files with a .tmp extension but there are other ‘temporary’ file to be found in a Windows installation. Browsers ‘temporarily’ keep copies of  files pulled from web site when we view them, your mail client may keep ‘temporary’ copies of email attachments that you opened from within the client. And of course the Recycle bin will hold deleted files until it is emptied. Not all of the ‘temporary’ files have the .tmp extension!
So how do we get rid of the temporary files filling up our systems? The obvious way is to use Windows Search to look for ‘ .tmp ‘ and delete everything that Search finds. There are two problems with this. The first is that when you select all the .tmp files Search finds and try to delete them some will actually still be in use but Windows or programs on your PC and will be locked. Windows will, helpfully, prevent this from happening and not delete the remaining files. If you identify the file that just stopped the delete process and try to delete the remainder you will quickly find another locked file. And so it will go on. So the second problem with this method should now be clear, it’s slow and frustrating. But it will work.

A better approach is to use a program designed to remove temp files. These will work faster than the manual method and will also remove other ‘temporary’ file such as you browser cache and a whole raft of files that Windows keeps when ever you download and install Windows updates. These are hidden the Hidden files in the Windows folder that you may have seen. The folders holding these files have names with the format $abcdef$ . Generally speaking these can be deleted, but you may wish to keep those with recent date and time stamps.

So which programs do I favour? Well for scripting and general use I use TempFileCleaner from . But I also make use of ATF-Cleaner which you can get from Major Geeks at amongst other places. My final choice would be Temp File Cleaner by Old Timer also known as TFC . Again this is available on Major Geeks at . This program requires a system restart after running.

Which is the best, well we could argue that all day! They all work well, they all do the job. Some times the reboot required by TFC may not be convenient. Some times you may want to script the process and so TempFileCleaner may be your choice. As I would normally remove temp files as part of a complete clean up process, I would be running a number of programs and would therefore script the whole process to reduce the amount of user interaction required. 
I’ll cover scripting the whole process once we have talked about defraging and a few other little speed up tricks!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Beta testing the CounterPath Bria 3.5 softphone

Bria 3.0 softphone

Beta testing the CounterPath Bria 3.5 softphone

I’ve been invited
  by CounterPath  to take part in the Beta testing of the Bria 3.5 softphone! This is the second time I have had the good fortune to be part of a CounterPath Beta program. 

It’s exciting to see and trial a new product and rewarding to be part of the team working on such a great product. 


Check out Bria and the venerable eyeBeam at

Softphones can be used in conjunction with a Voice over IP (VoIP) provider such as Sipgate to allow you to make and receive phone calls from you PC or laptop to any other VoIP phone or to any landline phone such as those provided by BT. 

EyeBeam with Sipgate
VoIP to VoIP calls are free, calls between a landline and a softphone incur charges. I have been using Sipgate for five or more years both to provide a SIP trunk to my home Asterisk PBX and directly linked to some softphones. The provide a very good and reliable service and good support.  

If your interested in setting up a VoIP phone system and need some help drop me a line at