Thursday, June 24, 2010

Super Software Secrets

The apps you use most--your Web browser, productivity tools, media managers, and Windows and its built-in accessories--are more powerful than you realize. They are loaded with unpublicized features that make your PC easier to use, they respond to superquick keyboard shortcuts that you've never heard about, and they support add-ons and plug-ins that can shave minutes or even hours off of mundane daily chores.

But finding these shortcuts and obscure features usually means perusing dusty manuals or digging through intimidating help menus, and many of the most useful tips are ones that you would never have thought to look for in the first place. Fortunately, you don't have to do the searching yourself--we've done it for you. Read on for the mother lode of expert software secrets.

Windows Tricks

No matter how fast your system is already, a well-crafted Windows shortcut can give it a recurring productivity boost. These tricks and workarounds will make your applications quicker to launch, your files easier to find, and your PC simpler to manage.

Work Your Windows Key

Quickly view your system specs: Press Windows-Pause to bring up the System Info window. This keyboard shortcut can be especially handy if you're troubleshooting a PC and need to pull up the system's specs in a hurry.

Launch taskbar apps: Put your most commonly used appli­cations in the taskbar, and you'll use your mouse a lot less. Pressing Windows plus any number key will launch the program in the corresponding taskbar slot (so Windows-1 will open Windows Explorer, Windows-2 will open the app positioned to the right of Explorer, and so on).

Ditch the Displays Control Panel: To switch display modes instantly when you plug in a projector or dock your laptop to an external display, press Windows-P.

Run apps from anywhere: You can launch applications and set parameters from your keyboard, without having to waste time digging through the Start menu to find the one you want to use. Press Windows-R to bring up the Run dialog box.

Fix the Small Stuff

Don't lose your work to automatic updates: Windows Update often forces your PC to restart after it finishes updating the operating system with the latest fixes--and if you're away from your desk with an unsaved document open at the time, you'll lose your work. To prevent this from happening, open Windows Update in the Control Panel, click Change settings, and in the drop-down menu select Download updates but let me choose whether to install them. That way, you'll never again get burned by a post-update reboot.

Change Windows Explorer's default folder: Tired of clicking through Windows Explorer to find the one folder you use regularly? You can save precious time and mouse clicks by making Windows Explorer open your favorite folder by de­­fault. Right-click the Explorer icon in your taskbar, and then right-click Windows Explorer and select Properties. In the Target field, add a space and a file path at the end of the ‘%windir%\explorer.exe' section, so that the new (longer) path looks like this: ‘%windir%\explorer.exe C:\Users\yourusername\yourfolder'.

Stick to one point of view: Windows will remember and abide by your View settings for each individual folder--a level of faithfulness that's annoying if you like to stick with a particular view setting. Open a folder, click the Organize tab, and choose Folder and search options. Select the View tab and click the Apply to folders button at the top. You have a new default folder!

Disable touchpad clicking when you type: If your touchpad is set to detect a tapping motion as a mouse click, it can send your cursor flying around your screen whenever your wrist accidentally brushes against the touchpad. Grab Touchfreeze, a free utility that automatically disables your touchpad while you're typing, and you won't have to wonder where your newly typed text ended up.

Use your local Library (folder): Windows 7's Libraries provide an easy way to organize and access files, but they become much more useful when teamed with Win7 Library Tool, which lets you add nonindexed folders (including network folders) to your library of choice.

Safely remove memory cards without waiting: You're supposed to use the Safely Remove Hardware icon in the system tray before unplugging memory cards and the like--but waiting for it is such a pain that you'll be itching to pull your memory card without waiting for Safely Remove Hardware to do its thing. The key to making quick removal safe is to ensure that Windows isn't writing to the card without your knowledge; if the operating system behaves itself, you can eject the card whenever you want without corrupting your data. To adjust your settings, first right-click the memory card in Windows Explorer, choose Properties, click the Hardware tab, select the memory card reader, and choose Properties; then click the Policies tab (you may have to click the ‘Change settings' button before Policies shows up), and choose Optimize for quick removal. Henceforth, you won't need Safely Remove Hardware.

Taskbar Techniques

Restore your Quick Launch bar: Windows 7 added a lot of neat features to the taskbar, but in the process it got rid of the Quick Launch bar. Fortunately, bringing Quick Launch back is fairly easy. Right-click the taskbar and uncheck Lock the taskbar; then right-click the taskbar again and choose New toolbar. Type %appdata%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch into the file path, and then click the arrow button on the right to navigate to that folder. Quick Launch will be back in action.

Clean up your system tray: Your system tray probably contains lots of icons that you rarely use. Instead of clicking the arrow to expand the system tray every time you need access to its contents, just drag the icons you use most often from the expanded tray to the minimized tray area on the taskbar. That way, you can click them immediately instead of having to expand the tray and root around for the icon you need.

Drag and drop to your taskbar apps: A taskbar icon's behavior depends on which modifier keys you hold down as you click it. Hold down Shift while you click an app's icon to open a new instance of the app. Hold down Ctrl-Shift while clicking the app's icon to open the program as an administrator. Drag a file from your desktop (or from an open window) over an app's icon on the taskbar to pin the icon to the app's jump list, or hold down Ctrl to open the file with that program.

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What Is Your Facebook Data Worth?

The gargantuan amount of high-quality user data on Facebook is causing everyone--from marketers to hackers--to salivate like dogs gazing at a steak. They all want a piece of you.

Thanks to Facebook's Open Graph API (which simplifies the development of third-party applications that interoperate with the social networking site) and social plug-ins (which essentially splash Facebook's "Like" button all over the Internet), people who are interested in your data are getting a chance at a much choicer cut of it. (For more, read "How Facebook Plans to Dominate the Web.")

Additionally, Facebook's Instant Personalization Pilot Program, which the social network introduced this spring, was the wake-up call for many users who had been ignoring the concerns of privacy watchdogs. In response, Facebook updated its privacy settings in late May, to some praise--and confusion.

Read on to see who's getting a look at what you do on Facebook. You're sharing more than you think--and you might be surprised at what your data is worth.

Facebook Itself
It goes without saying that Facebook has unrestricted access to everything you do relating to its site, and its growing collection of profile data, preferences, and connections is prompting some experts to estimate the value of the site beyond the GDP of some countries.

For instance, a Mashable article reported that SharesPost, a marketplace for shares in privately owned companies, suggested an $11.5 billion value for Facebook, versus a $1.4 billion value for Twitter and a $1.3 billion value for LinkedIn.

"You've filled out the biggest survey in the world for Facebook, and you didn't even know it," says Cappy Popp, founder and principal of Thought Labs, whose Doorbell application is one of the top 100 most-used apps on Facebook. "You can't put a price on it because there's never been anything like it," Popp says of the user data that Facebook could accumulate over the next few years.

Everyone Else
Facebook status update displayed on Openbook.comA quick look through the Website Openbook, which allows users to search for embarrassing Facebook status updates that anyone can view, shows the volume of people whose accounts are set to broadcast status updates to everyone. Some Facebook status updates reveal far too much.

For instance, a search for "cocaine" or "drunk" in Openbook's search field yields status updates such as "Cocaine is a man's best friend" and "I'm so drunk right now need to go to bed." (Note: Despite its resemblance, Openbook is not part of Facebook.)

Are these updates just jokes? Are they statements taken out of context? They could be either. But slapped next to a name, gender, and profile picture (information that Facebook requires to be public), they create an impression. And it could cost you.

Just ask Natalie Blanchard, who in November 2009 was fighting to have her health benefits reinstated by her employer's insurance company. The Canadian woman was being treated for depression, but Manulife Financial questioned her health claim after seeing Facebook photos of Blanchard enjoying herself at a party and on the beach.

Facebook's Instant Personalization Partners's use of Facebook's Instant Personalization can allow you to see what artists your Facebook friends are enjoying.One day in April, registered users of Pandora and Facebook launched their favorite online radio station on Pandora's site and discovered that they could now see which of their Facebook friends liked the artists and songs they were hearing.

For that to happen, the users either purposely or accidentally passed by the opt-out bar for Facebook's Instant Personalization Pilot Program, for which Pandora, Yelp, and Microsoft were launch partners. The same thing happened to readers of MSNBC, who were surprised to find information on stories recommended by their Facebook friends pop up on the news Website.

Instant Personalization allows selected Facebook partner Websites to access your data and tailor content to your tastes. With Instant Personalization activated, your Facebook information is available for access the moment you arrive on partner sites. When the program launched in April, Facebook automatically activated it for all users. However, a privacy uproar forced the company to revise its policy, and Instant Personalization is now optional for users.

"A number of people have reported to me that this feels a little weird to them," says Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, about Pandora's Instant Personalization implementation. Pandora declined to be interviewed for this story.

How Instant Personalization Works
The implications of Instant Personalization are more serious than your discovering your boss's love for '80s boy bands. Partner sites can work with Facebook to learn a whole more about you than what you may have told them directly.

According to Peter Eckersley, senior staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Instant Personalization partner sites use JavaScript code and Ajax calls to get personally identifying information about you from Facebook. So if you already had an account on the Instant Personalization partner site, that site can now see your Facebook information and your existing account information at the same time.

"[The Facebook partner sites] would see the usual cookie that they set in your browser, and the one that Facebook's API constructs using Ajax, simultaneously," says Eckersley. "The design of the Facebook API clearly anticipates that the Website will do this."

Application Developers
Zynga's FarmVille is one of Facebook's most popular applications.Facebook applications are fun. According to All Facebook, which calls itself the "Unofficial Facebook Resource," the site's Facebook Application Leaderboard of applications with the highest monthly users shows that a variety of games--including Zynga's FarmVille, Texas HoldEm Poker, and Café World--make up more than half of the top 20 applications.

However, fun comes at the cost of privacy.

Once you accept an application on Facebook, it gets an all-access pass to your profile data. The application runs through an iframe (inline frame), a widely used HTML element that lets a site embed its content onto Facebook's site.

As a result, you're sending data directly to the third-party application's servers. Previously that server was required to refresh its Facebook data every 24 hours, but as of the April F8 conference, Facebook did away with that requirement. As a result, the outside parties can store user data for longer periods before refreshing it.

"You've authorized that application to do whatever it wants to do," says Thought Labs' Popp.

The info accessible through your friends settingsAnd even if you don't use Facebook applications, your friends do.

Unless you've gone into the 'info accessible though your friends' portion of Facebook's Applications, Games, and Websites privacy settings, your friends are taking your profile information with them on their farming and gambling adventures--without your knowledge, but in most cases with your tacit consent. (For some advice, read "Facebook's Social Web: How to Protect Your Privacy.")

Game applications are big business. For instance, FarmVille maker Zynga is reportedly valued at as much as $4 billion. Plus, Facebook just revamped its Insights dashboard, which page owners and application developers can use to obtain data and graphic visualizations about social plug-ins and integrated site content to better understand their return on investment for using Facebook.

Hackers and Worms
Right now it's hard to know the worth of user data shared through Facebook's Instant Personalization since the program is so new, but in the wrong hands such information could represent a large chunk of change.

A May article on TechCrunch reported a proof-of-concept exploit on Yelp that took advantage of cross-site scripting to grab Facebook addresses and other information. The exploit's author was a security consultant looking to prove a point. Yelp, which declined to be interviewed for this story, patched the vulnerability. No user data was stolen.

But other, genuine security threats are thriving on Facebook. The Koobface worm has been lurking on Facebook since 2008, growing more sophisticated with its ability to create an account, friend strangers, and join groups.

And on Memorial Day weekend, hundreds of thousands of Facebook users encountered a clickjacking worm that duped them into "liking" pages that led to the installation of malware for perpetuating the worm's spread.

"The biggest danger that I can see is that they get your log-in credentials," says Beth Jones, senior threat researcher at Sophos Labs. The intruders can gain access to information such as mobile phone numbers, partial credit card numbers, and billing addresses stored in the Payments section of Facebook's account settings.

"That's where some of the true value of stealing these log-in details comes in," says Jones. "[Attackers] can start pulling off some really decent identity theft."

Identity theft can also occur when a snoop looks through Facebook profile data that privacy settings haven't locked down. "Unfortunately a lot of password-reset questions are answered in your profile," says the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Opsahl.

So how much is your Facebook identity worth?

Researchers at VeriSign's iDefense recently reported that a hacker named Kirllos claimed he had 1.5 million Facebook accounts for sale for a price of $20 to $45 per 1000 accounts, depending on the number of contacts. According to a New York Times story, Facebook said that its own investigation did not find the claim credible. Facebook did not answer an interview request for this article.

Marketers and Advertisers
Facebook advertisers pay good money to target their ads to your profile characteristics.Companies selling everything from online dating services to lattes are thrilled that they can direct their advertising to Facebook's 400 million users through nine key demographic and psychographic filters.

"It offers the kind of targeting that marketers have been looking for for years," says Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst for eMarketer.

In January, Einstein Bros. Bagels ran a highly successful Facebook promotional campaign, offering new fans of its Facebook page a digital coupon for a free bagel and schmear. The company grew its fanbase from 7000 to 613,063 (as of this writing). In exchange for free food, Facebook users gave Einstein Bros. feedback on food preferences, stores, and who they are.

Reggie Bradford, CEO of social media management company Vitrue, calls Facebook pages a great way to get to know your fans. "There are features like polls, quizzes, or coupons; through those vehicles, you can collect all kinds of market research," says Bradford.

Vitrue's Social Page EvaluatorBut how much are people like those rabid bagel eaters worth?

To answer that question, Vitrue created the Social Page Evaluator tool, which attempts to quantify the return on investment for a Facebook page. The tool places a $3,227,020 value on the Einstein Bros. Bagels page based on the number of fans, the posted content on the page, and the interaction between the two. (Note: The dollar amount doesn't correlate to real-world dollars, but instead serves mostly as a way to compare the "value" between pages. You can evaluate your own Facebook page.)

You could also say that Facebook users are worth the $605 million that eMarketer expects marketers to spend on worldwide Facebook advertising by the end of 2010. That's up from $435 million in 2009. (eMarketer defines advertising as display, video, search, and other forms of advertising appearing within social network environments.)

"Quantifying the value of a Facebook fan is something we're going to see a lot more of in the next year," says eMarketer's Williamson.

Despite waves of privacy backlash, Facebook continues to thrive and to look for new ways to make money for itself and its partners. To do that, Facebook will continue to leverage its biggest asset: you.

"Facebook is a business. I don't think they have any ill will toward anyone, but they're going to do anything they can as a corporation to be successful," says Popp. "The onus of privacy is on the person using the Web."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hands On With Apple's New 32GB iPhone 4

The Apple iPhone 4 is everything that a new piece of technology should be: It's innovative, attractive, and ahead of its competition. In comparison, previous iPhone upgrades seem inconsequential--that's how much iPhone 4 brings to the table.
The phone will ship on June 24, priced at $199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB model (in white or black).

Premium Look

I spent some hands-on time with the new handset at the Apple event. I'll start with the visuals: It's stylish. Whereas the iPhone 3GS looks and feels plasticky, the iPhone 4 is svelte and has a premium feel. Surprisingly, it achieves that impression while retaining the same general design, although the edges appear a bit more squared than before.

iPhone 4 (left) and iPhone 3GS (right)It's noticeably slimmer than the iPhone 3GS, measuring 0.37 inch deep versus the iPhone 3GS's thickness of 0.48 inch (that translates to 24 percent less). The iPhone 4 is also slightly narrower, 2.31 inches to 2.44 inches. The weight stays the same at 4.8 ounces, but the tweaks to the dimensions make the current iPhone 3GS seem downright kludgy in comparison. (See all iPhone 4 specs.)

However, it's the aesthetic design touches that make the iPhone 4 stand out. The overall design screams elegance--from the rounded, individual volume up and down buttons that replace the plastic volume rocker on the iPhone 3GS to the ring/silent switch and the power/sleep button up top. The face and back are made of glass that is specially treated to withstand scratches and oily fingers, according to Apple. The side edging is stainless steel, and doubles as the device's three cellular and wireless antennas.

Sharp Display

Of course, the iPhone 4 isn't just about cosmetic enhancements, pleasing as they are. What makes this phone such a technological improvement is what's inside the handset.

Like its predecessor, the iPhone 4 has a 3.5-inch display. But the new phone's display doubles the resolution to a 960-by-640-pixel IPS display. At 326 pixels per inch, this is the highest resolution available on a phone to date.
That display truly makes a difference. Whereas the iPhone 3GS's text--in the menus, in apps, or on Web pages--appears thick, fuzzy, and undefined, the iPhone 4's text is razor sharp, even when enlarged (as I tried doing when viewing a PDF).
Apple 'Retina display' (at right)The new "Retina display"--so named because it surpasses the number of pixels the human retina can process--also greatly improves the sharpness, clarity, and visible detail of images.

In both cases, I'd liken the magnitude of difference to that between a standard-definition 480p DVD and a high-definition 1080p Blu-ray Disc: When you view both on an HDTV, the differences are striking. And once you see them, you can't go back.
The real value of the new display will become evident for people who spend time reading on the iPhone 4. I expect the display will make reading a more pleasurable experience (although, clearly, limits will remain given the inherently modest screen size--modest, at least, as compared with handsets such as the Sprint Evo 4G, which has a 4.3-inch screen, and the much larger 9.7-inch iPad screen).

iBooks Goes Mobile

The high-res display, coupled with the addition of iBooks on the iPhone 4 (and with iOS 4 upgrades), makes the iPhone a more relevant e-reader. iBooks retains its structure, appearance, and function from what we've already seen on the Apple iPad; and with this OS's ability to sync the iPad, desktop, and iPhone, readers gain the flexibility to move seamlessly among devices. This capability is available for Amazon's and Barnes and Noble's respective e-readers, as well, but not for other competitors.

iBooks also gains a few new features previously unavailable on the iPad. You can now create notes and bookmarks, and see those notes, bookmarks, and highlights in the table of contents. I suspect that the notes remain trapped in line--for example, there's no way to create cheat sheets, summaries, or other such personalized shortcuts that you could then utilize on your computer or elsewhere--but these new functions are a step in the right direction.
iBooksThe major new feature in iBooks is its native support for PDFs. You'll find tabs for both books and PDFs. Each one gets a bookshelf or list view (your choice). You can add PDFs via e-mail or Safari, and PDFs can sync back to iTunes and to other Apple devices such as the iPad or iPod Touch.

iPhone 4: A Computer in Miniature
The iPhone 4 uses Apple's A4 CPU, the same processor powering the Apple iPad. And it runs the newly renamed iOS 4 operating system (which the iPad will also use, starting in the fall).
As part of iOS 4, the iPhone 4 gains a bevy of capabilities. One of them--multitasking--feels long overdue, but as with Apple's long-awaited cut-and-paste feature, the company delivers on the promise of making multitasking work smoothly.

Quickly double-tap on the home button to pull up a pane that shows which apps are open. From there, you can swipe horizontally through the apps that the iPhone 4 has retained in either a running or suspended state.

When you find the app you want, you just click on the icon. The app will then resume its activity, and, if written to take advantage of this new feature, it will pick up precisely where you left off. At the very least, reaccessing the app will be faster.

Comparative Use Tests
Let's take the example of the side-by-side tests I did with an iPhone 3GS (running iPhone OS 3.1) and the iPhone 4. I navigated between the Safari Web browser and the Photos application and back again to Safari, and then back again to Photos.

iPhone 4: On the iPhone 4 using iOS 4, the phone jumped quickly and smoothly between the apps, with virtually no pause or hesitation. I left a fully drawn Web page in Safari to go to Photos, navigated to a folder within Photos, and then to a picture in the middle of that folder. When I popped back to Safari, I resumed at the fully drawn Web page, and when I jumped back to Photos, I was looking at the same photo I'd left moments earlier.

iPhone 3GS: That same exercise on the iPhone 3GS required the Web page to draw the first time. To change apps, I had to press the home button to exit Safari. I then went into the Photos app and found my image in its album. To go back to Safari, I pushed the home button to return to the home screen and then clicked on Safari. (On one pass, the page loaded immediately; on another, it did not). I then pressed the home button to return to the home screen, selected Photos again--and found myself back at the top-level list of Photo Albums, as opposed to drilling down to a specific image within a specific folder.

Closing apps on iPhone 4To close an app out of the multitasking bar, you click on the icon and hold. The icons then get a red button with a dash; touch there, and you can close the app.

Equally as elegant as multitasking is Apple's implementation of Folders, an increasingly necessary addition. To add icons into a folder, you simply drag one icon on top of the other to create the folder; the folder automatically gets the name of the category those apps share. Or, if you prefer, you can rename the folder on the spot. You can pack a maximum of 12 apps within a single folder (that gives you three rows of four apps across the home screen). And, thanks to the addition of Folders, you can now add up to a maximum of 2160 apps.

Dramatic Camera Boost

The iPhone 4 brings much-desired camera and video recording advances, as well. The primary camera on the back bumps up from 3 megapixels to 5 megapixels, while retaining the same pixel size (which can further improve image quality). The camera also gains an LED flash, a backlit sensor, and an integrated 5X zoom. The camera now lets you shoot in high-def, at 720p, 30 frames per second; in addition, video gains the tap-to-focus feature already available on the camera.

I did not test these features--the lighting at the demo room was a bit funky, and I would have only been able to view the results on the demo device. However, the examples that Apple showcased during its keynote were compelling evidence that these upgrades are indeed worthy ones. These will be among the first features I'll try when I get my hands on a device for our full review.

I didn't fully test the front-facing camera, another addition to the iPhone 4, either. This camera is integral to Apple's FaceTime videophone app, which works only for communicating between two iPhone 4 handsets.

iPhone: Upgrade?
From my early look at the iPhone 4, this handset appears to be a must-have for anyone with an original iPhone or iPhone 3G (the former won't get the iOS 4 upgrade at all, while the 3G won't support some features). And people who have an iPhone 3GS will find this a worthy upgrade, too.

Unlike the previous jump, from the iPhone 3G to the 3GS--which focused on slight performance improvements--the iPhone 4 bolsters the hardware's digital imaging capabilities and its display, making it a comprehensive and measurable upgrade over its predecessor.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Best Fitness Technology

These gadgets, software programs, Websites, and mobile apps will get you in shape at home or on the road.

With personal trainers producing YouTube fitness videos, iPod Nanos sporting pedometers, and yogis practicing tree pose using the Wii Fit--technology has become one of the best ways to set and maintain fitness goals. We consulted sports professionals, fitness enthusiasts, and tech companies to find the latest and most interesting hardware, software, and Websites that you can use to get in shape and stay the course.
General Fitness Gadgetry
A portable music player is still as important to workouts today as it was when the first wave of yellow Sony Walkmans hit gyms in the early 1980s. (For more tech oldies, see "The 50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years.") One new fitness-focused model is the Philips Activa ($130), which adds workout software to a combination portable media player and FM radio. Enter your age, weight, and height, and the Activa will count calories, time, or distance as you engage in an activity such as running, cycling, or rowing. Use the TempoMusic feature in conjunction with the up and down arrows to find songs that match your speed, so you won't find yourself listening to speed metal during your cooldown. Need a little encouragement? Program a male or female voice to update you (whenever you hit the Boost button) on calories burned, distance covered, or simply the virtues of staying the course. Plus, you can download all of this information to your PC and track it over time.

The Polar WearLink+ Transmitter Nike+ adds heart-rate information to all of the workout data you track through Nike+ productsThe ultimate athlete's gadget is a heart-rate monitor. Polar, a popular maker of heart-rate monitors, has recently teamed up with Nike, which makes the Nike+ SportBand and iPod Sport Kit, to create the Polar WearLink+ Transmitter Nike+ (street price $70). This awkwardly named chest strap, slated to be available before the end of June 2010, transmits your heart-rate data to Nike+ devices for upload to the Web service for tracking over time. It's compatible with the fifth-generation iPod Nano and Nike+ iPod Sport Kit.

Want the pedometer sans the iPod? Released last year, FitBit ($99) is a souped-up pedometer that uses a 3D motion sensor to track your walks and runs, count your calorie intake, and even gauge how well you slept based on movements you made during the night. Wear the tiny clip at all times (in an included wristband while you sleep) and when you walk by the bundled base station, the FitBit will transmit data via a close-range wireless signal to, where you can track your activity over time. The base station also charges your device. The FitBit is made for walking, running, and general everyday activities. It won't accurately measure long bike rides, however, and it isn't waterproof so don't swim with it.

Nutrition and Weight Loss
You can track calories in and calories out with the free Lose It iPhone app.A multitude of weight-loss Websites and applications serve up huge searchable databases of different foods and exercises to help you count calories, analyze nutritional information, and use portion-control systems to dial down the pounds safely. But these services are only as good as the information that you put into them, and remembering to note every carrot and candy bar can be a pain in the very posterior that you're trying to slim down. Mobile apps such as Lose It (free), available for iPhone and iPod Touch, have made the task of logging in data about your meals a lot more spontaneous because you always have the app with you.

"I'd go and do it four times a day," says Kirsten Owen, a Bar Method instructor and former triathlete who used LoseIt to sharpen her awareness of what she was eating. LoseIt's database contained entries for a lot of the foods Owen ate, though its litany of prefabricated packaged foods didn't match her preference for cooking from raw ingredients or eating at restaurants. Still she was able to use the app's Recipe feature to determine the caloric make-up of her home-baked cookies and muffins. You can register for a LoseIt account to obtain more-detailed reporting, data backup, and a method for sharing results with friends.

DietPower; click for full-size image.If you're more comfortable using PC software, you might like DietPower 4.4 ($30), which lets you track 33 nutrients in more than 21,000 foods. It also has tools that encourage you to adjust your eating throughout the day by telling you which items you should be eating more of (skim milk) or less of (fudge). As with LoseIt, you can count carbs and cholesterol. The 4.4 version also lets you track trans fats, and enter portions by volume or weight.

Nutrition for You; click for full-size image.If you want to feel as though an actual human were determining your food fate, try Nutrition for You ($10 per month). Gina Gutierrez, general manager of San Francisco-based Diakadi Body Personal Training, calls it a great tracking system. "Our clients have used it quite a bit and have seen a lot of success from it."

Developed by sports nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, Nutrition for You creates a customized dietary plan based on your age, activity level, resting metabolic rate, dietary restrictions, and fitness goals. You use the Website to track what you eat and to read fitness news, tips, and recipes. If you need a little more help, you can sign up for 30-minute consultations with a registered dietitian at about $30 a pop, depending on the number of sessions.

The Withings Internet-connected Body Scale sends your weight wirelessly to an online account.For some people, success takes the form of weight loss, and if that's the cohort you belong to, the Withings Internet-connected Body Scale ($159) can help you measure keep track of the vanishing pounds Wi-Fi-style. A thin black-metallic unit with a backlit display, the scale wirelessly transmits your measured weight to your Withings Web account. You and up to seven other users can track progress over time. If you're feeling especially confident (or triumphant), you can broadcast your results via Facebook or Twitter or more discreetly transmit them to fitness services such as DailyBurn and RunKeeper.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Social Music Service From Skype and Kazaa Founders

Rdio is opening up its social music service to a new round of users, the company said in a blog post on Wednesday.

The service, created by Kazaa and Skype founders Janus Friis and Niklas Zennström, allows users to share their taste in music with friends, and offers access to music via a Web-based client for PCs, iPhones and some BlackBerry devices. The phones can also store the music for later playback offline, and an Android application is coming soon, the blog post said.

Users who have helped develop the service have been sent invitations which they can pass on to their friends.

Rdio has also been integrated with social networks, so users can share links to music via Twitter and Facebook. Listening to the music requires a subscription: Invited users can choose between Rdio Unlimited, which costs US$9.99 per month and works on the Web and some smartphones, and Rdio Web, which is web-only and costs $4.99 per month.

At first, the service will only be available in the U.S., but other parts of the world will follow in the near future, according to the blog post.

Its music library includes about five million songs, according to a statement.

Friis and Zennström incurred the wrath of the entertainment industry with an earlier venture, Kazaa, a peer-to-peer file-sharing service that allowed users to download content for free.

However, Rdio has music majors EMI Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group as well as a number indie aggregators of digital music on its side, the company said.

Rdio is far from the only service that offers streaming music to mobile phones. Others include the European service Spotify, which so far isn't available in the U.S. Spotify offers a subscription-based service and an ad-funded version that is free to the user. The latter has been a runaway success, but Spotify has had problems converting people to the paid version, according to Paolo Pescatore, an analyst at CCS Insight. Users are willing to pay for tracks and albums, but they haven't been as keen to pay for monthly subscriptions, he said.

Kazaa and Skype were both big hits. But one of Friis' and Zennström's more recent projects, the Internet TV service Joost, hasn't managed to take off in the same way, so it remains to be seen whether the duo still have their golden touch.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Getting The Best Out Of Facebook

32 Ways To Use Facebook In Your Business
Facebook’s not just for keeping tabs on friends and filling out quizzes — it can also be used as a highly effective business tool. It’s great for marketing your products, landing gigs and connecting with your customers...

How to Use Facebook: 5 Tips For Better Social Networking
Facebook is a social networking site that is enormously popular, but it can be a frustrating user experience. The design of Facebook leaves a lot to be desired and there are almost too many choices for things to do on Facebook...

How To Test Your Facebook Privacy Settings
We've been talking about Facebook's privacy mess for days now. We all know the story, right? Privacy controls are broken, everyone's getting irritated, Facebook's not too concerned, blah flippidy-freakin' blah.
Don't get me wrong: That's all important information. What's been lacking all this time, though, is a simple fix...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

32 Ways To Use Facebook In Your Business

Facebook’s not just for keeping tabs on friends and filling out quizzes — it can also be used as a highly effective business tool. It’s great for marketing your products, landing gigs and connecting with your customers.
Here are 32 ways to use Facebook in your business.
Manage Your Profile
1. Fill out your profile completely to earn trust.
2. Establish a business account if you don’t already have one.If you have a profile, you’re not supposed to create a business account as well – it’s supposed to be one or the other, not both.
3. Stay out of trouble by reading the Facebook rules regarding business accounts.
4. Install appropriate applications to integrate feeds from your blog and other social media accounts into your Facebook profile. (Although you should be careful before integrating your Twitter feed into your Faceboook profile, as a stream of tweets can seem overwhelming to your contacts.)
5. Keep any personal parts of your profile private through Settings.
6. Create friends lists such as “Work,” “Family” and “Limited Profile” for finer-grained control over your profile privacy.
7. Post a professional or business casual photos of yourself to reinforce your brand.
8. Limit business contacts’ access to personal photos.
9. Post your newsletter subscription information and archives somewhere in your profile.
Connect and share with others

10. Obtain a Facebook vanity URL so that people can find you easily.
11. Add your Facebok URL to your email signature and any marketing collateral (business cards, etc.) so prospects can learn more about you.
12. Post business updates on your wall. Focus on business activities, such as “Working with ABC Company on web site redesign.”
13. Share useful articles and links to presentation and valuable resources that interest customers and prospects on your wall, to establish credibility.
14. Combine Facebook with other social media tools like Twitter. For example, when someone asks question on Twitter, you can respond in detail in a blog post and link to it from Facebook.
15. Before traveling, check contacts locations so you can meet with those in the city where you’re heading.
16. Research prospects before meeting or contacting them.
17. Upload your contacts from your email client to find more connections.
18. Use Find Friends for suggestions of other people you may know to expand your network even further.
19. Look for mutual contacts on your contacts’ friends lists.
20. Find experts in your field and invite them as a guest blogger on your blog or speaker at your event.
21. Market your products by posting discounts and package deals.
22. Share survey or research data to gain credibility.
23. Use Facebook Connect to add social networking features to your web site.
24. Suggest Friends to clients and colleagues — by helping them, you establish trust.
25. Buy Facebook ads to target your exact audience.
26. Read up on Facebook Beacon to see if it might be useful for you. Use Network, Group and Fan Pages
27. Start a group or fan page for product, brand or business. Unless you or your business is already a household name, a group is usually the better choice.
28. Add basic information to the group or fan page such as links to company site, newsletter subscription information and newsletter archives.
29. Post upcoming events including webinars, conferences and other programs where you or someone from your company will be present.
30. Update your group or fan page on a regular basis with helpful information and answers to questions.
31. Join network, industry and alumni groups related to your business.
32. Use search to find groups and fan pages related to your business by industry, location and career.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How to Use Facebook: 5 Tips For Better Social Networking

Facebook is a social networking site that is enormously popular, but it can be a frustrating user experience. The design of Facebook leaves a lot to be desired and there are almost too many choices for things to do on Facebook. Also some of the more popular Facebook activities are trivial instead of useful - throwing sheep is an oft-quoted example.

Having said that, there's no doubt that Facebook is a powerful social networking tool. So how can you best utilize it and find the good apps? In this post we aim to find out. We'll be focusing specifically on social activities, rather than the many other potential uses of Facebook (work, brand management, etc).

Tip 1: Update Your Status Regularly
This is a simple thing to do to keep your Facebook profile active. Right at the top of the page there is a place where you can "write something." Usually a comment about what you're doing or thinking. Once a day, or even once every few days, is enough. But update it enough to keep your page interesting.

Tip 2. Use Groups (a.k.a. Lists in Facebook Terminology)
Groups are a core feature of social networking on the Web. To effectively use Facebook, we recommend you set up some groups so that you can filter content. One person who does this very well is our own Marshall Kirkpatrick. Marshall says that he generally scans his Facebook homepage first, then clicks to his groups for family and old friends from school. He noted that "this way most of my time spent on Facebook isn't re-reading the same things I've already read on Twitter."

There is a bit of a trick to setting this groups feature up. Facebook calls this feature "lists," probably to differentiate them from its other Groups feature (which have been usurped by 'Pages' now). Confused? Get used to it, Facebook navigation is awful.

To set lists up for your Facebook account, go to your Facebook homepage and click the "more" link on the left-hand sidebar. You will see a link entitled "Create new list" at the bottom - click on that to create a new group.

Tip 3: Add Your Content From Other Sources (Carefully...)
In this day and age, you are likely creating content in more than a few places on the Web. This ranges from the extreme cases (early adopters who have personal RSS feeds coming out their ears), to those who may just use YouTube and a couple of other niche social websites.

Many early adopters use FriendFeed to aggregate their 'lifestream' of content from multiple sources. Facebook just bought FriendFeed, so expect to see it integrated into Facebook over time. As of now, if you have more than a few content sources and they aren't necessarily the well-known ones like YouTube or, then you'll need to use FriendFeed or an equivalent lifestreaming product to aggregate those feeds. But if you find FriendFeed just a bit too geeky (and many people do), then you can adequately enrich your Facebook profile with external content.

One thing we'd caution, which this author took too long to notice: don't pipe your FriendFeed content into Facebook if you aggregate a lot of content into FriendFeed! It quickly overpowers your Wall and will likely annoy the friends you have who also subscribe to your FriendFeed.

To add external content to Facebook, on your Wall page click the 'Options' link on the top right. Then click 'Settings.'

You can then choose to "import stories" to your Facebook wall from a select number of sites: Flickr, Digg, YouTube and others.

You can add content from other external sources to Facebook by clicking the 'application settings page' link further down the page.

Tip 4: Brighten Up Your Profile With Photos and Videos
This almost goes without saying, but adding multimedia makes your Facebook profile interesting and attractive.

If instead of Facebook you usually use a specialist photo site (like Flickr) or video site (like Vimeo), then you'll need to search around for ways to export your files. I use Flickr and didn't find a satisfactory way to export photos from Flickr to Facebook's Photo albums. But via my Twitter network I managed to discovered a plug-in for iPhoto, which allows Mac users to bulk export from iPhoto to Facebook.

Tip 5: Search Out the Best Facebook Apps
Ever since Facebook became a development platform back in May 2007, thousands of apps have been built to add to your Facebook page. As noted in the introduction, these range from trivial (e.g. sheep throwing) to very useful. The best tip here is to find apps that complement your interests.

Our advice is to search the directory for keywords of interest to you. The quality of apps varies greatly and often there are errors (at least I came across them several times when researching this article). When you find an app you like, you can add it to your profile. I added an Art app recently, for example.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How To Test Your Facebook Privacy Settings

We've been talking about Facebook's privacy mess for days now. We all know the story, right? Privacy controls are broken, everyone's getting irritated, Facebook's not too concerned, blah flippidy-freakin' blah.

Don't get me wrong: That's all important information. What's been lacking all this time, though, is a simple fix -- an easy way to make sure your personal Facebook data is actually protected. Sure, you could go on a scavenger hunt to find Facebook's 170-plus privacy options scattered throughout a dozen different pages. But even then, you're likely to miss something in the virtual labyrinth the company's created.
Today, there's a better way. Behold: the one-stop privacy fix-up tool for your Facebook profile.

The Facebook Privacy Scanner

The tool is called ReclaimPrivacy, and its name pretty much tells you what you need to know. Using it is simple: Just surf over to and look for the link that says "Scan for Privacy." Add that link as a bookmark in your browser, either by dragging it onto a bookmark toolbar or by right-clicking it and selecting the "Bookmark" option.

Now head over to Facebook. Sign into your account, then open the bookmarked link.

This will cause ReclaimPrivacy's Facebook privacy scanner to open right at the top of your current Facebook window. Within a few seconds, ReclaimPrivacy will scan through six areas of potential privacy concern and let you know how your account stacks up.

ReclaimPrivacy analyzes everything from your personal information controls to your "instant personalization" settings. It even checks account settings that affect what your friends could inadvertently share about you without your knowledge.

For each area, ReclaimPrivacy will give you a green ("good"), yellow ("caution"), or red ("insecure") ranking. If you hit yellow or red, it'll provide you with specific steps to fix the problem so you don't have to waste time searching for the right setting.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Google Is Headed For Your TV

Google has partnered with Intel and Sony to create Google TV, an ambitious attempt to bake its Android software into TVs, Blu-ray players, and a Google set-top box called Buddy Box. Google TV is clearly a challenge to Apple TV, the Boxee Box, TiVo and to some extent cable itself. The goal is to fuse the Web with televisions in a way that other Internet-connected TVs don't. That is, Google TV is an open platform free of restrictions and powered by hardware that can handle Flash.
Google TV will be available in set-top boxes and televisions this fall, with Sony and Logitech as hardware partners. For now, let's look at the key features of Google TV:

Web and Subscription TV Merge
Google wants to avoid a sharp distinction between Web content and traditional television from cable or satellite. When you search for a show in Google TV you see options for television and Web, the latter option taking you to a screen that lists all online episodes and sources, including Hulu, Amazon and Netflix. You can always jump back into live TV with the press of a button.

Flash Support
The obvious application for Flash is Web video, but Google promises that Flash support will allow Google TV to play games such as Farmville and streaming music sites such as Pandora. Unfortunately Google didn't demonstrate these applications, so we'll have to see whether they work as promised.

One Remote
Demonstrators used big keyboards to navigate Google TV, and stressed that only one input device will be necessary. It's not clear what the actual remotes will look like, but I'll bet Logitech and Sony will have their own designs.

Talks to Android Phones
Google TV has a couple features specifically for Android phone owners: Instead of typing in television search queries, you can dictate them into the phone, and the request is sent to the television by Wi-Fi. Also, if you're watching a video on the phone, you can send it to the television.

Android App Support
In addition to tapping the Web for content, Google TV will work with any Android app that doesn't use phone features. Google only showed Pandora as a demonstration, but hopefully games and other media will run smoothly on the big screen.

The Hardware
Televisions equipped with Google TV technology will have Ethernet and Wi-Fi capabilities. One-click DVR recording will be available on boxes from the Dish network, another partner announced Thursday. There's no word on pricing or specific products. Sony says it plans to offer Google TV on some of its Bravia TV sets as well as Blu-ray players. Google says those who want to add Google TV to existing television sets will be able to buy a Google set-top box called a Buddy Box that will bring the service to any TV.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Web-based Applications - Best Strategies For Success

As a network administrator, part of your job is to manage and ensure application availability and performance. While web applications are great for the user and require very little configuration they can cause bandwidth or latency issues that aren’t so great. The reality, however, is that this is a problem that is becoming more common in network management, and there is help out there to guide you.

One thing to keep in mind is how much your topology comes into play when you are dealing with applications that are hosted which are used via the browser. Many do not realize that this can be the key to problems that may pop up. Issues that result from routing or changes that have been made to switches can be avoided by ensuring that accurate topology maps and records are kept.

Performing regular baselines is also important. Sure, you probably perform a baseline before you make a change or add network components, but a good practice for network management would be to schedule regular baselines. This can be a certain time of the day every week, month and so on. It is import to continue to keep a schedule of baselines to make sure you know exactly where your network performance is at. This way, you can easily know what normal network capacity is.

Once you have done this, you will be ready to further optimize your network, giving it the horsepower needed to run applications smoothly. Everyone wants to see things running quickly and without issue, so this is the fun part.

This is just an overall summary of some of the strategies for web applications and how to maintain them over a network. If you want to learn more, there is a wealth of information from one of the top network management solution providers, SolarWinds. Check out the web applications best practices presentation or maybe brush up on some reading about application mentoring.

Adding tools to your arsenal never hurts, especially when they’re FREE! When you get a chance go ahead and download the free WMI Monitor for real-time performance information on Windows-based servers and applications.

You can also try out Orion Application Performance Manager from SolarWinds, a leader in application performance management. The trial lasts for 30 days. If you like it, you may want to consider adding it to your set of network management tools. It’s easy to use, and gives you full access to its range of tools to get a handle on application management.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How to Fix Your PC

Considering how many different software and hardware components need to work correctly for a modern PC to turn on, it's a small wonder that they work as well as they do. We can't give you a panacea for all of your computer ills, but we can provide a guide to getting out of the most common PC disasters. Here are some useful strategies.

If your PC won't turn on: Try plugging it into a different outlet or power strip; if it's a laptop, try a different battery and power adapter, if you have another one handy. For desktops, make sure that all your internal plugs and cards are properly seated--graphics card, RAM, everything.

If none of this helps, it's probably a problem with your motherboard or power supply, and unless you've got spare parts handy, you're probably best off calling the manufacturer's tech support line.

Safe Mode--click for full-size image. If your PC turns on, but won't successfully boot into Windows: First, start booting up, and press F8 repeatedly during the boot process. This may allow you to access a menu that lets you select different boot options with your keyboard, one of which is "Safe Mode".

Select Safe Mode, uninstall the last thing you installed, update all your drivers (if you need to download new ones, you may need to select the "Safe Mode With Networking" option instead), and open up the System Restore app (Start Menu, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore) to roll back to an earlier point when your PC could successfully start up.

If you hear a series of beeps on startup, you might have a motherboard-level problem.If you hear a series of beeps on startup, you might have a motherboard-level problem. Safe Mode not working? Your hard drive might be failing. Get your rescue drive or manufacturer recovery discs, boot up from it, and save whatever data you haven't backed up.

Then run your disk diagnostic app--you can always run Check Disk, which is built into Windows, by right-clicking your hard drive, selecting Properties, clicking the Tools tab and selecting Check now... under the "Error Checking" tab. There's no cure for bad sectors--you'll have to replace the drive.

If you hear your PC emitting a set of beeps during the startup process, it's most likely your BIOS trying to tell you that you have a motherboard-level problem with your PC--your processor fan might be unplugged, for example, or your power supply might not be working.

The beep patterns aren't standard, so you'll have to get on a different PC and check out your BIOS manufacturer's Web site to figure out what's wrong.

Your BIOS--click for full-size image. If Windows successfully boots, then crashes soon afterwards: Start by updating all your drivers--first, the essential drivers provided by your PC manufacturer, then the drivers for your peripherals and extra devices. Don't forget to update your BIOS, too.

If your PC is crashing soon after startup, try uninstalling anything you recently downloaded and checking your startup apps and background processes to see if something is going wrong.

Windows Task Manager--click for full-size image. You can view the processes in the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl-Shift-Esc and clicking the Processes tab--and you can use as a reference for figuring out the obscure ones. For startup items, search for msconfig and click on the Startup tab to see what's going on. If something you recently installed shows up in there, it might be your culprit.

If your crashes aren't so easy to reproduce, try running a scan for viruses and malware with your preferred security suite.

On the other hand, if you recently installed a new security suite and started seeing problems, try uninstalling it and then use a different one. Security apps typically get deeper into the guts of your system than other apps, meaning they're more prone to incompatibilities.

Still can't figure it out? Google can be your best friend when it comes to troubleshooting, especially if you have an error message handy--even if the official support sites haven't covered your specific problem, odds are that someone has posted on a tech forum about it.

Search for the specific error message--in quotes--for best results, and if you can't find an immediately obvious error message, try looking in Control Panel, Problem Reports and Solutions (Vista); or, for Windows 7, open Control Panel, Action Center, Maintenance, View reliability history, and click on View all problem reports at the bottom of the window.

If you can't find any leads, you might have to do a clean Windows reinstall. Back up your data, reformat, and install from scratch.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Guide To Home Networking 2

Setting Up Your New Network
Okay, so you've installed your networking infrastructure (if you're using wired or HomePlug networking). Now it's time to set everything up. I'll assume that you're starting from scratch. (If you're having problems with your network, check out "Set Up Your Home Network: Windows 7 Edition" for more tips.)

The steps are pretty straightforward, but keep in mind that these are general rules of thumb. Various models and brands of access points and routers may differ on specific configuration details. Note that when I refer to "routers" in this section, most of this advice also applies to access points in Wi-Fi-only networks.

Also, don't assume that experience with older routers means you'll just be able to jump in and configure new ones. Some recent routers have substantially automated the setup process, but it's useful knowing how to manually set up your router if there are exceptions to the rules you've followed before.

Configure the Router to Connect to One PC

Typically, you'll connect your router or access point to your PC via an ethernet cable. Routers usually have multiple ethernet ports, so connecting a PC is easy. An access point may require something called a crossover cable, which is a special ethernet cable with two of the pins reversed. Some access points come with a short crossover cable, but you may need to obtain one before proceeding.

Some routers require you to configure your PC to a specific IP address in order to perform setup. Recently released products may be bundled with a software CD that walks you through the configuration process. Note that different brands may have different default IP addresses for the router itself. For example, Linksys routers default to, while D-Link users have You'll need to consult your router or access-point documentation for specifics.
Set Up Router and Wi-Fi Security

Every router comes with a default admin account that has a default password, which is usually listed in the documentation. It's startling how many users simply leave the admin password at the default, which allows random people to hijack your router. So the first thing you should do is change the admin password.

Securing your Wi-Fi network
The next step is to set up wireless security. A general rule of thumb is to configure for the highest level of security: WPA2, which uses AES encryption. However, some applications and older hardware may not work with WPA2, so you may need to opt for WPA with TKIP encryption for compatibility. Some much older devices may support only the original WEP security scheme, but that has been shown to be relatively insecure. I recommend upgrading to newer devices.

One important step here is to enter a password that acts as an encryption key. Though you want to remember the password easily, you don't want it to be so easy as to be hackable by an outsider. Pick a long, relatively arcane password. (WEP keys are more limited--but you're not using WEP, right?)

Connect the Router to Your ISP
If you have a recent-generation router, it may come with software that will autoconfigure the ISP settings, but you might want to do this manually anyway. Connecting to the Internet means entering key information about your ISP into the router.

* Connect your cable modem, DSL modem, or other gateway that your ISP supplied to the port labeled "WAN" or "Internet" on the router.
* Set the IP address of the router as indicated by your service provider, if you use a static IP. Otherwise, simply set the router to be assigned an IP address by your service provider automatically via DHCP. Note that this is different from the gateway address you'll set in any client hardware that connects to the router.

Routers isolate your internal network from the Internet by presenting a single IP address to the Internet. But your home network sees a different IP address as the router gateway, typically or

* If your ISP provides you with a modem that acts as a gateway device, as some do, you'll need the IP address for that device. The gateway adds another layer, which has yet another IP address. Your ISP should have configured that piece of hardware earlier.
* If you use alternate DNS providers, such as OpenDNS, you'll want to enter that information. (If you don't know what this is, then you can ignore this step.)

Connect Any Wired Devices to the Router
If you want to connect some PCs or other hardware via wired ethernet, now is the time to hook them up. Also, if you have an ethernet switch, attach that to one of the router's standard ports (not the port labeled "WAN").

I'm assuming that you left the router set to supply IP addresses to your internal network automatically, via DHCP. If you did, any client hardware should pick up an IP address from the router.

Connect Wi-Fi Hardware
The last step to getting your network running is to configure Wi-Fi hardware. When you fire up your hardware and tell it to connect via Wi-Fi, you'll need to enter the encryption key (Wi-Fi password) you set up in the router.

Some routers implement something called "Wi-Fi protected setup," which can automate the process of connecting wirelessly to the router. You may still need to enter the password, but you won't need to tell the device what type of security you're using, or other connectivity details. Again, check the documentation for each piece of hardware.
Configure for Software

You may need to configure your router for particular software needs. For example, you may be a heavy user of videoconferencing or VoIP (voice over IP). Or maybe you're a serious online gamer. In any of those cases, you may need to configure features such as port forwarding or virtual servers.

Virtual servers allow you to configure particular ports as public; the router redirects incoming requests to a specific system. This arrangement can be useful if you're running a Web server or an FTP site.

For gaming, VoIP, and other similar software, you'll want to use port forwarding. If you're not comfortable mucking around with your router settings, check out Simple Port Forwarding.

Ports are specific to individual IP addresses (for example,, in which the xxxxx is the port number). Each IP address can support 65,536 ports. For instance, 80 is the port that Web browsers use, and every router automatically recognizes this.

Depending on the application, you may need to configure a TCP (transmission control protocol) port or UDP (user datagram protocol) port--or both.

Forwarding ports is a painSome games and other applications may use only specific ports to connect to the game server or other systems. As a result, you might need to configure your router for particular port numbers. For example, the screenshot here shows a D-Link port forwarding management page, configured for the Xbox Live service (port 3074) and the Slingbox (port 5001).
Port Forwarding, uPnP, and DMZ

Current-generation routers and software are often more sophisticated, and you may not have to configure port forwarding. The general rule is to try to connect with the game first, without port forwarding, and then add it if you can't connect.

If the router has UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) capability, some apps will use it to configure port forwarding while the game is running, and then turn it off when the software shuts down. Some users disable UPnP for security reasons, however. If you do, you may need to configure the proper ports for your app.

You can find lists of ports and related applications on the Internet, if your game or application manuals don't give you that information.

One thing to avoid, if at all possible, is a firewall DMZ. A DMZ (literally taken from the military term "demilitarized zone") allows you to configure a particular computer to be set up outside the firewall. That PC, as a result, is completely exposed to the Internet. This can be useful for running game servers for older games that are difficult to set up using port forwarding, but you should avoid it if you can. A system in a DMZ is open to all manner of intrusions from the Internet.

A Brief Note on Firewalls
FirewallsModern hardware routers often ship with fairly sophisticated firewalls built into them. If yours does, you may not need to use a software firewall, such as the Windows firewall, or the firewalls incorporated into Internet security software. In my home, we typically turn off software firewalls. Is that safe? We've never had an intruder get into our home network.

Most routers have logging capability built in, and checking those logs is always illuminating. When we look at the log for our home router, a D-Link DIR-655, we see a few entries that read like the following:

Blocked incoming TCP connection request from IP address xxx.yyy.zzz.123 to [router IP address]

I've changed the IP address above, and I've chosen not to reveal my router IP address for obvious reasons. What this can represent is a serious intrusion attempt, or some software bot simply pinging the router to see if the network is exposed.

No firewall is completely foolproof, but we've had good success with hardware firewalls built into modern routers. While the default settings are often good enough, many have additional capabilities for the truly paranoid. So if you're worried about intruders sneaking into your network, ratchet up all the settings on your hardware firewall.

I can offer some general troubleshooting tips here, but hardware and software combinations can vary widely. Be prepared to contact your ISP, your router manufacturer, or tech support for each piece of client hardware as appropriate. (For more tips, check out "How to Fix Anything.")

Plug it inPhotograph: Kevin Candland Can't set up the router: Sometimes, you can't even connect to the router or access point for initial configuration. Make sure you've connected to the correct port; some older routers may allow you to perform initial setup only by connecting to a specific port. Similarly, older routers and most access points may require a crossover ethernet cable.

In addition, you may need to first set up your PC for a specific IP address, and then reboot to actually connect to the router.

The router doesn't see the ISP: This often happens if the router is set to automatically receive an IP address from the ISP, but you've asked for one or more static IP addresses (or if you've entered a static IP address incorrectly). Also, if your modem doubles as a gateway, you'll have to configure your router differently.

The client hardware can't connect: Make sure DHCP is enabled. If you're using a Wi-Fi connection, make sure that security and encryption are set up correctly. For example, many laptops ship with tools from the manufacturer to streamline the configuration process. I've seen some of these tools incorrectly detect the type of security being used, so you may have to go to Windows' own networking utilities to set that.

All Plugged In
A wiring panelNow for a look at one particular network: the one in my home. Our family's network is relatively complex in scope, but while we do some online gaming, we don't run a Web server or an FTP site from within the house.

As I mentioned, we have bundles of Cat 5e wiring at the baseboards in one home office, plus structured wiring to several key rooms in the house. All this is tied together into a central structured-wiring panel, which houses a pair of Netgear 16-port gigabit ethernet switches.

The room has a single Cat 5e wired drop, which connects to a compact Linksys eight-port gigabit ethernet switch. All of the wired devices connect via the switch.

Prior to putting a wired drop in the family room, we were using a D-Link DAP-1522 802.11 wireless bridge. The bridge connected to the router via Wi-Fi, and has four gigabit ethernet ports. Now that we have five wired devices, having a physical drop and an eight-port switch has been incredibly useful.

The Internet connection is through Comcast's Business ISP service, which connects via a cable connection to an SMC gateway. While the gateway also has a built-in router, that's limited to 10/100 fast ethernet, so the router is disabled.

A single cable runs from the gateway to the D-Link DIR-655, which has four gigabit ports. Another cable runs from one of the gigabit ports to one of the Netgear 16-port switches, and the two switches are bridged through a short cable.

The Case Network
Overall, the network itself has been pretty reliable. In addition to the Nintendo Wii, we have an iPhone and an iPad connecting via Wi-Fi, as well as a couple of laptop PCs. We've never had a problem with network throughput to any device in the house, even with multiple large downloads.

One of us is often taking part in videoconferencing while the other is downloading a large game through Valve Software's Steam gaming service at the same time; neither of us has experienced issues with connectivity, apart from the rare occasions (twice in the past nine months) that the Comcast connection has dropped for brief periods (the longest was about 2 hours).