Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tech Support On Firewall Protection

Before starting with the discussion on Windows firewall, let’s know what a firewall actually is. Firewall is a software or hardware utility that blocks unwanted access to your computer. These are critical component of a computer security system and necessary to keep your PC secured while they are connected to internet. According to tech support specialists, it is important to install and connect to a firewall prior to connecting to the internet. A firewall not only protects your PC from virus attack or other malware threats, but also keeps hackers away from sensitive data.
Windows Firewall is a specialized PC security product designed to protect complete computer operations from vulnerable threats. You can get the Microsoft firewall system as a specific product from market or bundled with Microsoft operating systems like Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP. For better security of your high speed internet connection, often online tech support professionals suggest hardware-based firewall utilities that secure broadband connections such as cable, DSL, satellite or fiber. According to computer support experts, you really don’t need firewall software if your internet gateway is protected with a secured router. So, what kind of firewall you actually need?

Well, this is hot debate topic. Some tech support professionals think you must have a software firewall to protect your computing optimally, while some other think hardware protection is just more than enough to restrict outbound connections for nefarious purpose. Now the fact is, software and hardware firewall protection maters significantly in case of laptop computers. If your laptop is connected to the internet through your home network, there is no difference in terms of firewall setup. But, in case you are getting connected to internet from outside, such as hotel room or airport, you are no longer protected with your hardware firewall. So, it is always wise to have a software firewall in your system.

The free firewall software packages available over internet can help you prevent threatening intrusions and keep your computer free from virus and spyware attacks. Online technical support companies can help you get the free utilities from authentic sources. Chances are there to get scammed, and therefore you must be very careful while selecting and downloading free open source software utilities. If you are running Windows XP or Windows Vista, be rest assured that you already have a protection inbuilt called Windows Firewall. Not getting the program option in your operating system? Ask a remote tech support vendor to help you locate and access that. If you are using Mac, you will find the protection at Security panel. In the earlier version of Mac OS you can access the setting Sharing Pane in System Preference.

However, ZoneAlarm Firewall, Comodo Personal Firewall, Sunbelt, Agnitum Outpost are some of the popular free firewalls you can download and install to give your PC an added protection. How to pick the best suitable firewall from the lot? As online technical support professionals suggest you must read through the descriptions of free firewall programs before downloading one.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Useful Information About Data Recovery

Every time your hard drive crashes or you lose your data, you should turn to data recovery restore your data correctly. Data recovery is something most users are familiar with, like most of us turn to data recovery at some point. While hard drives are getting better, they are still mechanical and will always be problems.

The first thing you should do before problems arise, it is always a backup of your data. If you have backups of your data, you can also prepare for possible disaster. In this way, even if your hard drive can not be repaired and lost data, you'll always back than normal. If you do backups, you will find the situation very traumatic when you discover that your data can not be restored.

Most hard drives will last for years before any failure or hardware problems. You can prevent data loss by selecting from your computer when not in use, or turn the unit off if you hear a strange noise. If the hard drive begins to malfunction and allow him to continue to run, only prejudice. If you turn off the power immediately and consult a specialist, have a much better chance of having it repaired.

With natural disasters, hackers, viruses or other problems, you usually have time to react. Before you know it, the unit will be damaged and your data will be gone. While this can be very frustrating recovery can usually bring your information. All you need do is take the hard disk to a local specialist, then you need to work with you and show you the power of data recovery.

There software is the call for the restoration of lost data, even if we must avoid at all costs. Most often, these programs are not your hard drive more harm than good. Although the software can cost a lot of money in professional data recovery services, professional services guaranteeing their work. When you activate the software and made it worse - more or less poor you, because the software does not guarantee anything.

Every time your hard drive crashes and seems to lose the data you need to return to professional data recovery. It may cost you much money, even if I do the job right the first time. Where is the data that you really do not want to risk everything - especially if he retained the documents and important files on your hard drive.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Points To Consider When Setting Up Broadband Internet

Broadband providers now provide speeds of upto 24mb (thanks to the addition fire optic cabling). With the increase of online media such as audio and video streaming and online gaming, Broadband providers are under constant pressure to provide the most competitive and fastest broadband speeds. This is great news for the consumer.
But before deciding which Broadband provider to choose, you should consider the following options

What Purpose Is The Broadband Used For
One of the first questions to ask yourself is what sort of broadband package you need. Will you be using the broadband connection all day?, will you be downloading games, watching videos, checking social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. If you are heavy user then a fast connection of upto 8mb and an unlimited bandwith (the amount of data you can download) is vital. However if you are a light user, who may only use the broadband connection for casual searching and emailing then some broadband providers allow customers to purchase broadband packages at a discounted rate, with a limited amount of downloading available

The Area You Live In

Once you have an idea of what kind of broadband package you need, it's now time to go and find a provider. There are many sites out there that will allow you to search Broadband providers in your area and the packages available. For instance some areas will not have access to a cable connection and depending how far away you live from a telephone exchange, can also determine the broadband speed you can expect.

Broadband Equipment
Another consideration is the type of broadband equipment you will need. Will you be using more than one computer, do you require a wireless internet connection?. For using broadband via a mobile connection you will need two things. A router and a wireless internet connection. A router is a device that connects up to the internet, and provide a 'always on' internet connection. You can either connect direct to the router via a LAN (local area network) Ethernet cable or via a wireless connection. Most laptops these days have the wireless technology built in and you will need the routers access code to link the broadband connection to your laptop. However if you are using a desktop connection you will need to purchase a wireless internet card or plug-in in dongle.

Broadband Providers Fair Usage

Perhaps the biggest way consumers get caught out when using there broadband connection, is by not checking there broadband providers fair usage policy. As broadband connection usually share the pipe (connection) with many other users (most broadband providers in the UK rent the access) then there needs to be some sort of fair way for everybody to be allowed a fast connection. Broadband providers will usually monitor the amount of data and bandwith you are using, and may limit the amount of download speed attained if you go over either a set amount, or are constantly downloading at peak times. This restriction usually comes in the form of either a capped broadband speed or you may even have to pay extra for the usage. It is therefore vital to read the documentation before signing up.

Friday, April 23, 2010

VOIP Solutions - Solution To Communication Barriers

VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is one of the effective technologies that have been putting efforts to smoothen long distance communication. Technological growth has led to the development of flexible communication that easily connects people at low rates. VoIP is one of the emerging technologies that is increasingly being used by many individuals and organizations for dealing with their supporting resources. This technology has been giving its best to establish its name in market place, helping people to overcome with communication barriers. VoIP Solution offers hi-end communication services and solutions that gives full-fledge quality services. However, with the ease of Internet phone service individuals are fulfilling their wishes by making cheap international calls. Such reliable VoIP solutions let to the progress of individual organizational context.

VoIP solution provider gives value added services and thus allow users to use wonderful calling features such as call waiting, call divert, call forwarding, photo sharing and lots more. These days, organizations are getting immense benefits from VoIP solutions. The network of Internet phone service has been ruling the entire globe. VoIP services have been playing a significant role in reducing communication costs. This allows firms to increase their productivity by generating more revenue. However, this also gives an ease to expand business overseas. This gives rise to manpower strategy to build new offices and staff to establish their presence in a new location. The need for communicating internally and externally to fulfill the basic businesses requirements. Voice over Internet Protocol is a new way to communicate with someone in a different place, will help to improve business productivity. It allows employees to access VoIP phone calls in order to interact with potential customers and clients. This is one of the cost saving techniques allowing individuals to get rid of their hefty phone bills. Moreover, one can also use the facility of instant messaging, SMS service, video calling, call conferencing etc.

The benefit of Internet VoIP calls has eliminated all the hurdles of long distance communication. This technology allows people to stay in touch with friends and family without bothering about calling charges. No more troubles, thank to technology that has given such a fantastic opportunity to make calls using Internet that too at low rates. Moreover, for better sound quality, the user can easily download VoIP software and make their communication more simple and convenient. With the presence of umpteen VoIP service provider, the great options of VoIP services and deals have been increasing with time. So search the suitable calling plan as per your concerned area and keep in touch with all your near and dear ones.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Video Conferencing

Perhaps one of the biggest draws of video conferencing is the ability to conduct business meetings or lectures with people hundreds or even thousands of miles away. In a time where company spending is being curtailed, video conferencing offers an eco friendly and economically viable way to liaise with clients, where expensive flights, taxi's or other transport methods are not required.

Business can be carried out between different company offices throughout the world, negating the need to pay for hotels as well as travel and subsistence expenses. As well as between offices, video conferencing can be carried out between individuals, from the comfort of their own homes. This is ideal for those living in remote areas, without easy access to transport hubs and also for those who may have physical disabilities - for whom; conducting business in familiar surroundings can be more helpful.

As with a standard face-to-face meeting, video conferencing allows for visual interaction between individuals, who can interact simultaneously. It is widely thought that such interactions produce a more effective business meeting, as protagonists can see the body language of the other party and act accordingly, as well as feeling more comfortable in a 'real life' eye-to-eye situation.
Despite the innovative nature of the technology, you won't need a plethora of systems to facilitate video conferencing. Many dedicated companies will be able to set such systems up with ease, tailoring them to your business needs. Indeed, components for the system include standard technology such as a video camera or webcam; computer monitor, television or projector; microphones; loudspeakers and the internet or LAN.
Benefits of Video Conferencing
The benefits of video conferencing for a business are many. It can help you cut costs, save time, and stay on top of what your employees are doing.
One of the biggest reasons why businesses take up video conferencing is to increase the productivity of their employees. It helps employees to share their ideas with the management quickly and efficiently, air their opinions, stay on top of the latest developments in a project, and converse with multiple people at the same time to take quick decisions. The more productive and efficient your employees, the more your business will benefit.

Another major reason for taking up video conferencing is to save time. Traveling to and from conferences and meetings can take up a whole lot of time that could be put to better use. Even having to get up from a workstation to go to another room for a team meeting can upset the work rhythm of an employee. Thus, meeting online can save on time, as well as maintain productivity.
Video conferencing, of course, is much more cheaper too, especially if you have staff in different physical locations. The cost of bandwidth today is almost negligble and the physical devices required for conferencing online are readily available (microphone and webcam). Moreover, if you or your staff has to travel to a meeting, you will end up shelling money on transportation costs, hotel room, and food. By meeting online, you can cut all these expenses to none and have the same level of interraction as you can physically.

Also, remember that traveling to and from a meeting place will use by fuel. By meeting online, you can cut down on this expenditure and make your business a little bit more environment friendly.
Lastly, you can do video conferencing as many times as you want in a day. It can help to improve relations between employees. Getting to know your employees can help foster team spirit - a vital ingredient to a successful business.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

ADSL - The faster way to the net

As published in Industrial Focus Magazine.
The popularity of the Internet has undoubtedly taken the world by storm; the only drawback has always been cost and speed. Only the larger companies could afford leased lines for permanent and hi-speed Internet connection as these start from around £3,500 for a 64k line. For this reason leased lines did not offer a sensible solution for the smaller company, leaving you with the choice of either ISDN or 56K analogue dial-up connections. This only provided you with slow, and depending on time spent online, expensive connection costs and frustrated users.
With the introduction of ADSL enabled exchanges around the country this has all changed. With increased speeds and ADSL MAX available connecting various office locations and home workers becomes a reality and a usable proposition for all businesses. So what are the benefits of ADSL for your company?
• Fixed monthly cost
• Up to 8MB download and 856KB upload
• 24:7, "always on" connection
• E-commerce enabled web-site
• Wide Area Network (WAN) - the ability to connect satellite offices into one network
• Virtual Private Network (VPN) - the ability to give authorised access to mobile users.

All this is possible with ADSL MAX and some additional hardware and configuration.
With all this good news you are understandably waiting for the bad news, well technically there is no bad news but we can offer a few words of warning. You will have to address certain security issues when installing ADSL and configuring the network for Internet access. Let's use an analogy to highlight the seriousness of this potential problem. Would you leave your house with the door wide open and give people the address as you walk along the street? Whilst doing so you explain that there is no security in the house to prevent unauthorised access.
Of course not, that would be foolish, but so is installing ADSL MAX without the added protection of a firewall. With ADSL you are given a static IP, a permanent address on the Internet. Without a firewall you are effectively leaving the door wide open and anyone can find your home. So now we all understand the seriousness of the "potential" problem, we can confront it. When considering security you should always presume the worst and prepare for it. A correctly installed and configured firewall will give you the ability to ensure the safety of your company information whilst connecting satellite offices and mobile users.
So let's briefly look at a firewall and its capabilities, a firewall forms part of a layer of defence on your network. It may work alone or with other firewalls or software on your system forming a barrier of inspection points which analyse the data packets that make up your network traffic. This traffic is either rejected or allowed to pass through to the internal network, or commonly referred to as the Intranet. Only authorised traffic will have the ability to pass safely through and carry on its journey.
So who or what exactly are we trying to keep out? Unfortunately there are many reasons that you may have an attack, some of the more common reasons are.

• Industrial
• Theft of information
• Joy riders, hackers and vandals

These types of intrusion may be to gain access to your valuable data, financial records, customer lists or marketing strategies. The more damaging of unauthorised access is by the hackers that only wish to cause damage and bring down your system.
RW Communications understand that their responsibility does not end at installing ADSL, but ensure the safety of the network and push the current technology to the limits. With forward thinking and the right motivation you can have the same advantages as your larger competitors but at a fraction of the cost, whilst ensuring the safety of your network.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Adobe Introduces CS5

Adobe's Creative Suite 5 has just been announced, and here we have all you need to know about the new collection of creative tools, including step-by-step guides to the main applications. It's expected to be on the shelves by the end of May, featuring revamped versions of its leading arts, design, video and animation tools -- plus two new web-design applications, Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder.
The suite features new tools to improve your art (such as Photoshop CS5's new 3D extrusion tool Repoussé, right), and mundane but useful productivity aids (such as InDesign's Gap tool) that make using the suite that bit smoother.
Behind the scenes are some seriously ramped-up components -- such as 64-bit After Effects and Premiere Pro to make animating and editing faster than ever -- and at last a 64-bit Photoshop for Mac (Windows went 64-bit with CS4). In today's time-sensitive workflows that means more than any amount of whizzy features.
With each new version, Adobe tweaks Creative Suite's interface to make the applications work more smoothly, both on their own and together. In version 5, these include a new Mini Bridge -- a slimmed-down version of Bridge that works within Photoshop CS5, Photoshop CS5 Extended, and InDesign CS5, providing image access and management.
As before, you can buy most applications individually, as a bundle (Web, Production, and Design bundles), or as a Master Collection, featuring everything.

Photoshop CS5
Photoshop seems to introduce a 'wow' feature with each version. This time round there's more than one. Digital artists are well served with the Mixer brush, a new paint system with a 'wet canvas' method for picking up multiple colours on a single tip, and mixing and blending them with the underlying hues on the canvas. The Content-Aware Fill tool removes elements from an image, magically filling the space with matching lighting, tone, and noise.
The Refine Radius tool makes creating accurate selections of intricate elements such as hair more achievable.
More than ever, Photoshop is a tool for digital photographers. The Lens Correction filter provides quick camera- and lens-specific correction for three common lens-related aberrations: geometric distortion, chromatic aberration, and vignetting.
For 3D workflows, there's the Adobe Ray Tracer (ART) 2.0. This progressively renders 3D scenes with an option to re-render after a pause, or perform selective renderings.
Another significant feature is Repoussé, which lets you quickly extrude text to create logos and 3D artwork. Once a model is created, you can use new tools to easily load a material and drop it into different meshes. Also new, the Shadow Catcher feature lets you easily generate and adjust a shadow on the ground plane of a scene.
For further realism, you can use an HDR image to light your scene, or create depth-of-field effects by adjusting the zone of sharpness with the new Distance and Blur controls.
Click here for step-by-step guides to the new tools in Photoshop CS5.

Illustrator CS5
True perspective comes to Illustrator CS5 with the Perspective Grid tool, which allows you to use a grid that supports drawing directly in accurate linear perspectives. You can also create objects in flat space and then apply them to a perspective plane, automatically transforming them into the correct shape.
Illustrator users also now have the Bristle Brush, offering vector painting that resembles natural brush strokes. Painting control is substantial: you can blend colours and set bristle characteristics such as size, length, thickness, and stiffness or set brush shape and bristle density. You can also finely control stroke width, dashes, arrowheads, and how brushes stretch along a path.
Meanwhile, better corner handling makes stroke shapes behave predictably in tight angles or around sharp points. There's also Draw Inside, which offers instant masking, and the Shape Builder tool, which lets you merge objects, break overlapping shapes into distinct objects, and more.
To prepare graphics for the web, Illustrator offers a new Align to Pixel Grid option, anti-aliasing character options and nine-slice scaling, enabling you to resize symbols while maintaining proportions.
Illustrator CS4 introduced multiple artboards; in CS5 you can work on 100 artboards of varying sizes in a document. There's also now an Artboards panel, where you can add, delete, and duplicate boards with panel controls or keyboard shortcuts.
Click here for step-by-step guides to the new tools in Illustrator CS5.

InDesign CS5
Of all the new Creative Suite applications, InDesign has seen the greatest efficiency boosts, with a raft of apparently small but incredibly handy little additions that solve bumps in the process of laying out pages.
So, for example, the Selection tool now allows you to quickly rotate frames, and position and scale frame content such as images using on-screen handles.
Persistent frame fitting maintains the relationship between images and their frames, even when the frame dimensions and white space change. New controls make it simple to change the look and feel of a frame as you go, for example dragging a corner of a frame to directly affect its radius and shape.
There's new support for different page sizes in a single document; InDesign also now automatically installs packaged fonts when you open a packaged document.
The useful Span Columns paragraph attribute means that, you can have a headline or crosshead span two columns; Split Columns does as the name suggests.
Creating interactive documents is easier than before in InDesign CS5, as Adobe has tidied its controls into the new Animation, Object States, Timing, Media and Preview panels.
Click here for step-by-step guides to the new tools in InDesign CS5.

Dreamweaver CS5
The centrepiece of the Web Premium collection, Dreamweaver CS5 integrates with Adobe BrowserLab, one of the new CS Live online services, which provides a preview of web pages and local content with multiple viewing and comparison tools. Also new for CS5, CSS Inspect displays CSS properties when designing web pages. This lets you quickly locate and modify a CSS-based element, including padding, border, and margin, then select the element in Live View to view its corresponding CSS rules and properties in the CSS Styles pane.
Dreamweaver now offers authoring and testing support for designers working with content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal (click here to see how to edit a Wordpress template in Dreamweaver CS5). The Dynamically Related Files feature provides direct access to a page's dependent files, while Live View renders the page as it will appear in your browsers, complete with dynamic, database-driven content and server- and client-side logic. Meanwhile enhanced Live Code highlights changes as they happen.

Flash CS5
Flash CS5 Professional gains the ability to output a project -- such as a game -- as an iPhone app or for other mobile devices. This is a major feature that will help plenty of creatives take their first steps in app design.
Flash also takes a leaf from Adobe's typographical tools by offering the Text Layout Framework, which adds kerning, ligatures, tracking, leading, threaded text blocks, and multiple columns. The new text engine also works better when importing from InDesign and other Adobe products.
Improvements to ActionScript editing and the ability to work with Code Snippets make coding for Flash far easier. Animation hasn't been forgotten, either -- using the new Spring option for the Bones tool, you can design more realistic-looking motion for jointed, flexible objects.
Alongside Flash Professional are two new packages: Flash Catalyst for designing desktop apps and Flash Builder for coding AIR apps. Click here to see how to create your first app in Flash Catalyst CS5.
Fireworks CS5 continues to develop as a web and interactive workflow tool; many of the bugs that saw the CS4 version get slammed by users have mercifully been ironed out.

Premiere Pro CS5
Premiere Pro is the heart of the Production Premium suite. It now features an enhanced, native 64-bit system architecture, and the Mercury Playback Engine, which dramatically ramps up performance for editing HD. There's also improved support for a range of formats.
More than the other suites, Production Premium takes advantage of metadata. It's useful for Adobe Story, a new script development tool, while OnLocation captures metadata as you shoot. Metadata streamlines searching for clips while you edit in Premiere Pro. Running Speech Search in Premiere Pro transcribes spoken dialogue then converts it into metadata. This makes locating footage simple -- as does the Face Detection feature.
Metadata also boosts Encore, allowing you to turn your DVD and Blu-ray Disc projects into web DVDs that now include a keyword-based search interface.

After Effects CS5
The 64-bit-enabled After Effects is much faster. Editing and compositing are greatly improved by the introduction of the new Roto Brush. Another new effect, Refine Matte, takes advantage of the capabilities found in Roto Brush and can apply them to any layer with a problematic alpha channel, such as keyed footage. After Effects CS5 also offers an Auto-keyframe mode, where modifying a property automatically turns keyframing on and adds a keyframe at the current time.
As with Premiere Pro, the variety of formats that After Effects supports has been extended, while support for XMP metadata is another new arrival.
Brilliantly for those working in motion-graphics and animation, enhanced colour management and new custom Color Look-Up Table (LUT) support ensures colour consistency across multiple devices. AE CS5 also includes Mocha Shape, Color Finesse 3, and Digieffects FreeForm plug-ins.

The roundup
So is it a must-buy? That all depends on your needs. In CS4, Adobe seemed to concentrate on improving integration between its applications. This time round, the focus is on improving each individual app, and the decision over whether this is a must-have upgrade for you or not depends on how much you will benefit from the special new tools of each program.
Some -- such as Roto Brush in After Effects or the Gap tool and Split Columns in InDesign -- promise to be huge time-savers. Photoshop's Content-Aware Fill also offers a quick way to carry out a common task, while the new brushes it shares with Illustrator which mimic real paint effects will have a big impact on the digital art scene.
Many will benefit from the ability to explore iPhone app development in Flash.
Other changes -- such as the move to 64-bit for After Effects and Photoshop for Mac -- offer a big enough performance boost to convince many a wavering creative.

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 Beta: Faster Video Editing, Higher Demands

RAM is cheap. Hard drives? Cheap. Big, beautiful LCD monitors? Cheap, cheap, cheap. You may have all the elements of a great video-editing setup, but for one thing: a video-editing application that can take advantage of all that inexpensive hardware. With the new Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 ($799 stand-alone, $1299 as part of Creative Suite 5 Design Standard; prices as of April 12, 2010), though, you'll have all the components necessary to make even high-definition video editing fly.
Well, almost all the components. In addition to being 64-bit-aware, Premiere Pro CS5 relies heavily on GPU processing. If you have one of a very select (and expensive) group of graphics cards, the application will greatly speed up rendering and real-time playback, and leave your computer's CPU to handle more-mundane tasks.

64-Bit Means More RAM
The 32-bit versions of Windows have been squeezing users: Those OSs can recognize only 4GB of RAM at most, even as applications and Windows itself have come to demand ever-increasing amounts of RAM. On a 32-bit system, once all your startup programs load, you may have little left over to run memory-intensive applications.
With the debut of Creative Suite 5, Premiere Pro--along with its companion applications Media Encoder CS5 and Encore CS5, and the separate After Effects CS5--is now 64-bit native. That shift is long overdue (about five years overdue, since Vista came on the scene), but I'm still surprised that Adobe won't even offer 32-bit versions of these applications; you must have a 64-bit OS to run them.
When I installed a beta version of Creative Suite 5 on my test system, a dual-Xeon workstation running Windows 7 64-bit with 8GB of RAM, I did not notice a substantial improvement in rendering speed--but then, my workstation doesn't have one of the approved graphics cards. Relying on CPU power, Premiere Pro CS5 didn't render any more quickly than Premiere Pro CS4 did. However, I had none of the RAM-related problems I've occasionally encountered with Premiere Pro CS4--none of the slow reading and writing of data to the hard drive instead of to RAM, fewer playback and timeline scrubbing hesitations, and generally smoother operation overall.
As with the 64-bit Photoshop, Premiere Pro requires that you allocate RAM manually--up to a maximum of 128GB. On my 8GB system, the default setup reserved 6.5GB for Premiere and 1.5GB for everything else. However, with only a simple, single-track project open, Premiere used merely 214MB of RAM--it did not take up the entire 6.5GB, and my system ran perfectly well with several other applications open. Only when I started adding several tracks of HD clips and effects did Premiere start gobbling RAM; the highest amount I saw was about 3.5GB.

Graphics Card
One of the benefits of Premiere Pro CS5 is that Adobe is continuing the trend of using GPU power that it began with After Effects a couple of versions ago. The company says that Premiere Pro can "solve many computational problems in a fraction of the time a CPU would take to perform the same task" and thus can render HD video much more quickly--freeing your CPU to handle "background tasks." If I were Intel, I'd feel insulted by that.
That benefit goes only so far, though: Adobe has qualified just five graphics cards for use with Premiere Pro--all of which use nVidia's CUDA technology. Four of the cards are Quadro workstation cards, ranging in cost from roughly $800 to more than $2000; the sole desktop card so far is the GTX 285, which sells for about $400. Only the GTX 285 and one of the Quadros will work in a Mac. SLI configurations aren't supported.
Adobe says it will also support new cards from nVidia's Fermi line, such as the GTX 470 and GTX 480, which are supposed to be available this month. Unfortunately, while those cards are coming out soon, Premiere won't gain GPU-acceleration support for the GTX480 until the third quarter of this year, and Adobe hasn't said anything yet about the GTX 470.
Premiere's Effects Browser now has three buttons at the top of its window--one that filters the list to show only GPU-accelerated 32-bit effects, one that shows only CPU-accelerated 32-bit effects, and one that shows only YUV color-space effects. The filtering is particularly useful because if you mix 32-bit effects and 8-bit effects, they'll all render in 8 bits. Also, the accelerated effects are a bit of a tease--they are available for use only if you have one of the supported graphics cards installed, but they show up whether you have an appropriate card or not.

Additional Features
Mixing Macs and PCs in the same shop? Premiere Pro can now share projects and assets with Apple's Final Cut Pro, and with Avid editing applications. If you use only common effects and transitions, you may be able to do so without converting or even rendering--though you will still have to worry about how to share the gargantuan source files.When you import or export a Final Cut Pro project, Premiere will generate a translation report that details how effects, transitions, and other elements got carried over from one platform to the other. For example, you'll see notes like, "additive dissolve not translated; cross dissolve used instead."
Native support for massive R3D files generated by RED Digital Cinema cameras is new, as well as support for XDCAM HD 50, AVC-Intra footage, and HD video from some Canon and Nikon digital SLRs. For example, I imported HD video from a Nikon D5000, and Premiere required no conversion at all--I just dropped the clips into the source bin, and, from there, immediately into the timeline. Similarly, Premiere will now import unprotected asset files from a DVD, also with no fuss.
A new tool finds gaps in videos on your timeline, and another lets you output a still frame from your video with the click of a button. The latter function makes it much easier to generate a thumbnail image for your Website.
You can now set monitor playback resolution and pause resolution independently by using a simple drop-down menu; that's useful if you're editing on an underpowered system such as a laptop. But as with many Adobe applications, Premiere's interface text is very tiny, and you can't adjust the text size.
Later this year Adobe will release a set of online services called CS Live; some of these services will integrate with Premiere Pro and/or other elements of the Production Suite. For example, Adobe Story allows you to develop scripts, characters, and story lines and collaborate on them with other folks online, setting things like scene duration and shot numbering, and you can tag nearly every element in your script. Later, you can bring that information into Adobe OnLocation (which comes with Premiere Pro) to generate shot lists, and then when you import the project into Premiere, the in and out points and the metadata come with it. A link in Premiere's File menu will launch Adobe Story so you can check whether your production is adhering faithfully to your script. Then, you can upload your production (in low resolution) to another online Adobe application, CS Review, where others can make comments on the production; the comments then appear in Premiere Pro's new Review panel, and the comments appear at the exact points that reviewers want them to appear. The online services are supposed to go live later this year, though Story is already available as an Adobe Labs beta.
Adobe's with-both-feet move to a 64-bit-native application is a bold one, and a move that other developers are sure to follow. But beyond that, it strikes me that Adobe is, at least inadvertently, promoting a professional video editing environment similar to that of the early to mid 1990s, when those who wanted to edit analog video on their computers had to have $3,000 video cards in their computers. Sure, 64-bit computers have become relatively common, and regular folks will be able to use one with Premiere Pro to create great video productions, as long as they're willing to wait. If video editing is your job, you know that time spent rendering is money not earned or projects not completed, and for you, investing in this application and one of those expensive nVidia cards is practically guaranteed to speed up your workflow--and your cash flow.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Cisco M20 Valet Plus 802.11n Wireless Router: Simple Networking for Home Users

Cisco's new Valet Plus wireless router doesn't promise a whole bunch of fancy features or apps. What it does promise is that you can set it up and have a secure, working wireless Internet connection going in minutes. That's why, when you first open the box, you see a USB thumb drive and a device that looks like a cross behind a Honda Civic and an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station--and nothing else.
Once you take the Valet Plus out of the box, of course, you'll find the ethernet cable and a power cord. Instead of a manual, you get a small, fold-out pamphlet that shows off all the things you can do with your new wireless router (share files). No complicated instructions, no lengthy disclaimers--it tells you on the inside flap just to stick the USB drive in your PC (or Mac) and go.
The Valet Plus is the higher-end cousin of Cisco's Valet router; the main difference between the $100 Valet and the $150 Valet Plus (prices as of March 31, 2010) is the latter's extra radio antenna and gigabit ethernet ports, which make for a stronger signal and faster wired-networking speeds. Otherwise, the features, the setup process, and the software are identical.

Setting Up the Valet Plus
While the Valet Plus certainly makes setup and configuration easier than your average wireless router does, Cisco's apparent goal was to make the device easy enough for anyone to set up--after all, what's the point of buying a user-friendly router if it isn't friendly enough for people without prior networking experience? So I decided to play the role of PC neophyte and follow the instructions as strictly as possible.
The instructions on the box say:
1. Insert the Easy Setup Key into a USB port on your computer.
2. Click Connect to your Cisco Valet. If you do not see this, open the Easy Setup Key folder and double-click Connect.
3. Follow on-screen instructions.
In accordance with the instructions, I started by plugging the Easy Setup Key (the thumb drive) into a USB port. If you're on a Mac, plugging in the thumb drive opens a Finder window with an inviting Home icon labeled 'Connect to your Cisco Valet', just as the instructions indicate. My Windows 7 laptop, however, merely asked me if I wanted to browse the files in Windows Explorer (as it does with any removable media). When the window opened, it showed a bunch of cryptically named files, including the invisible files for the Mac file system (like .Trashes and whatnot), as well as the real documentation--an 18MB PDF that mostly covers the Web-based interface configuration options.
To Cisco's credit, the instructions do say (in smaller print) that if you don't see 'Connect to your Cisco Valet', you should open the Easy Setup Key folder and click Connect. It really means that users should click Connect.exe.
Once I opened the Cisco Connect app, the setup process was pretty easy: It told me to plug the Internet cable (Internet cable?) from my modem (what's a modem, again?) into the Internet port, to plug the power cable into an electrical outlet, and then to click Next. From there, the app handled all of the basic configuration--I just waited for a few minutes, and I was connected to the Internet on my very own 802.11n, WPA2-encrypted Wi-Fi network.
Had I stopped there, I would have already configured a functioning, encrypted wireless network good enough for most home networking needs, complete with a separate network with its own SSID for guest access (so visitors wishing to use their smartphones or laptops could have unencrypted but passworded Internet access without seeing the rest of the devices on my network). If I wanted to add more PCs to my network, I could just plug in the Easy Setup Key, and everything else would happen automatically--no control panels or Web interfaces involved.
Simple as it is for consumer use, this Easy Setup Key won't replace your office's IT department anytime soon; the Cisco Valet Plus is aimed at home users, and its configuration software really works only on a fairly simple network. When I tried using the Cisco Connect software to set up the Valet Plus on the PCWorld network, it got me a working network/guest setup with Internet access, but I couldn't change anything (not even the network name or password) in the Connect tool--just as the Cisco reps warned me when they gave me the review unit.

Family-Friendly Features
The Cisco Connect app also gives you access to a handful of features that make wireless networking easier in a family environment.
While the Easy Setup Key idea is a great way to add new PCs onto the network, a truly novice user would be in big trouble if that little drive ever went missing. Fortunately, you can back up your settings to make a new Easy Setup Key (using your own USB flash drive), and if you don't have one handy it'll walk you through connecting via Windows' control panel.
The Valet Plus also includes Safe Browsing Mode, which warns you when you're about to visit sites that might be hosting malware or other nasty stuff (while I was using it, the only sites that set it off were Web proxies, but your mileage may vary).
You'll also find a solid set of parental controls that let you designate content filters (the presets are for teenagers and children, though you can manually add sites to the list) and acceptable Internet access hours on weekdays and weekends. Since you can set the parental controls for each individual device on your network, you don't have to set blanket permissions across the network. Of course, the parental controls aren't perfect--while the content filters worked well on my laptop, my iPod Touch was able to access all kinds of not-so-family-friendly material despite the settings.

Advanced Configuration Options Still a Pain
Though the Valet Plus allows you to do plenty through the friendly Cisco Connect application, there are certain tasks for which you'll need the Web-based interface. The Web-based interface isn't particularly user-friendly, probably because Cisco assumes that you're digging around there only if you already know what to do. If you need to configure VPN passthrough, port forwarding, Quality of Service rules, or any other advanced Wi-Fi features, the Valet Plus won't hold your hand.
This is probably the Valet Plus's biggest missed opportunity; while the router is easy enough for a relatively inexperienced user to set up, features such as QoS remain hard to set up, even though they can make the operation of your home network substantially smoother. The same goes for port forwarding--the novice who sets up the Valet Plus probably isn't going to know that they need to forward certain ports to make Xbox Live or PlayStation Network function properly, much less how to do it in the Web configuration screens.
Cisco's Valet Plus is a step in the right direction--it's a solid 802.11n router with a streamlined setup process and a handful of useful features that don't require a networking certification to set up. However, "easier to use" isn't the same as "easy to use." Here's hoping the next iteration goes just a little bit further.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How to Fix Your Family's PC Problems

Are you the first line of tech support for your friends and family? Here's everything you need to troubleshoot for the not so tech-savvy.
When the phone rings in my house, there's a 50/50 chance it's a call for help--tech help. Maybe it's my sister trying to figure out why her wireless mouse no longer works. Maybe it's Dad wanting to know why virus warnings keep popping up on his desktop. (Uh, oh.) Or it could be Aunt Judy looking for the file attachment she knows she saved--but doesn't know where.
Sound familiar? The curse of being even a little tech-savvy is that you automatically get elected Tech Support for friends, family members, and maybe even your coworkers.
It can be a heavy burden to bear, as the interruptions always seem to come right when you're watching the final episodes of Lost or smack in the middle of an Xbox smackdown. I mean, working. They always come when you're working.
Still, these are people you care about (or at least, tolerate), and surely it's a compliment that they look to you as the brains of the outfit. So wear your Computer Repairman badge with honor, and follow these tips to deal with common problems as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Patience Is a Virtue
More often than not, the person you're dealing with will be frustrated, exasperated, and possibly downright angry. (Just like you are when your printer won't print.)
The key here is to be as understanding as possible. Start by assuring the person that whatever happened isn't his or her fault, that these kinds of things happen all the time, to everybody, and that the problem, whatever it is, is just par for the computing course.
In other words, be patient. Let him vent. Give her a shoulder to cry on. Then get down to business. They'll feel better, and you'll be able to work without so much yelling and/or sobbing over your shoulder.
You're Not Superman
When it comes to troubleshooting other people's PCs, think like a physician: "First, do no harm." Before you start deleting drivers, installing utilities, or replacing power supplies, ask yourself if this is a problem you really know how to solve. It's great to be the hero, but the last thing you want to do is make things worse. Know your limits, and know when it's time to call in professional help.
Start With the Obvious
Undo, Reset, Reboot - Tech remedies that seem elementary and obvious to you might be totally foreign to your "clients," so before you roll up your sleeves too far, start with some everyday troubleshooting maneuvers.
For example, I can't tell you how many times I've gotten this panicky call: "I was typing along in Word and all of a sudden my entire document disappeared!" Crazy, right?
Not really: This is often the result of accidental selection of all the document's text, either from pressing Ctrl-A (the Select All command) or an errant brush of a laptop's touchpad, followed by additional typing.
Consider this a teachable moment: "Ctrl-Z is your friend." That's the Undo command in just about every modern application, from Adobe Photoshop to Microsoft Word, and it reverses your most recent action.
In fact, many programs support multiple levels of Undo, meaning your first press of Ctrl-Z reverses the last action, the next press reverses the one before that, and so on. It's like going back in time step-by-step.
Suppose the problem is a sluggish or unavailable Internet connection. Computer neophytes love to blame the situation on viruses, but if you see no other evidence to support that, start with the obvious: resetting the modem and/or router. In my experience, that simple step solves the problem more often than not.
And speaking of resets, don't forget one of the best problem-solvers of all: rebooting the PC. When a program won't run, a printer won't print, or some other mysterious glitch appears out of nowhere, a reboot will frequently do the trick. Not always, but it's definitely worth a try. Same goes for the phone, iPod, printer, GPS, and other gadgets.
Take (Remote) Control of Their PC
Trying to troubleshoot a computer problem over the phone is like trying to tie someone else's shoelaces--when that someone is in a different house. It's a maddeningly slow, often fruitless process, one that usually unfolds like this:
"Okay, open up the Control Panel."
"Where's the Control Panel?"
"In the Start menu."
"Where's that?"
"The Start menu. You know, the Start button?"
"Oh, that. So I should click that?"
"Okay, then what?"
"Open the Control Panel."
"Where's the Control Panel?"
"Look for the thing that says 'Control Panel.'"
"I don't see it."
Fortunately, an easy way to avoid this special kind of hell is to use remote-control software. As long as their Internet connection is working, such software lets your PC take control of the other person's PC, interacting with their system just as though you were actually sitting in front of it. It's a lifesaver and a sanity-saver--and it won't cost either person a penny.
CrossLoop Free (Windows), LogMeIn Express (Windows), and TeamViewer (Windows and Mac OS X) are among the free tools that make this remote control (which is also known as screen sharing) possible.
I'm partial to LogMeIn Express, if only because it's the easiest of the three for the other user--the person needing help--to deploy. Here are the exact over-the-phone instructions you'd give that person:
1. Google "LogMeIn Express," then click the first link that appears.
2. Click the blue Share button.
3. When a pop-up box appears, click the Run button. (Firefox users may need to save the LogMeInExpress.exe file, then run it manually.)
4. Read off the nine-digit code that appears in the LogMeIn Express box.

At your end, fire up your browser, visit the aforementioned LogMeIn Express site, and type the code into the View Another Screen field. Click View, and in a few seconds you should have total control over the other person's system. Now you can poke around, see what's happening, and, hopefully, fix whatever needs fixing.
Don't Forget The Flash Drive
If you can't make any headway via remote control--a definite possibility if the problem is a malware infection, a finicky printer, or the like--it may be time for an in-person visit. But unlike a repairman out to fix a busted dishwasher, you don't need a big, heavy toolbox to deal with most computer-related issues. The only "hammer" required is a flash drive.
Specifically, a flash drive (I recommend one with at least 2GB of storage space) equipped with file-recovery utilities, malware-fighting software, system-diagnostic programs, and other so-called portable apps that can run directly from the drive, no installation required. It's like a multitool for PCs, one you assemble yourself with the applications you like best.
Or, if you prefer, the ones I like best. I never go on a repair call without the following flash-drive freebies:
CCleaner Portable. Not so much a problem solver as a system tuner, CCleaner cleans up the Registry, eliminates temporary files, and just generally gives Windows a good scrubbing. It may help a slow PC run faster.
Everything Portable. Sometimes the only problem is a missing file. The Everything search engine makes quick work of finding files and folders.
Recuva Portable Virus, drive glitch, user error--who cares how the files got deleted? The point is to get them back. With this free tool, your chances of "Recuva-ry" are about as good as they get. And because you run it from your flash drive, it reduces the chances of the lost file(s) getting overwritten on the hard drive.
SUPERAntiSpyware. A few months ago, the so-called AntiVirus Live virus started bombarding PCs with scary, real-looking security warnings and masquerading as a program--Antivirus Live--that would protect and repair them. SUPERAntiSpyware (which sounds like one of the fake programs it promises to remove) can rid a PC of that and other pernicious infections. (Click on the thumbnail below.)
You can find hundreds more portable apps at Of course, most of these tools have one common requirement: Windows. But what happens if Windows won't boot or keeps crashing? This could be the result of corrupted system files, a major malware infestation, or even a failing hard drive. In any case, Windows-powered utilities won't do you much good. You're going to need a stronger solution.
Like Linux. You can install an entire Linux operating system on your flash drive and make that drive bootable, meaning it'll load the OS without making any changes to your PC. That's one effective way to rescue files and data that are otherwise trapped inside a busted Windows. To learn how to create a bootable flash drive, check out Lincoln Spector's handy guide.
On the other hand, if you're just trying to clear out some stubborn viruses, try AVG Rescue CD. True to its name, this free antivirus utility was designed for bootable CDs--but a flash-drive version that works just as well is also available. It boots into a specialized Linux environment that can scan for and remove infections within Windows. It also features a Registry editor, a file-recovery tool, and a file browser, among other helpers.
Share Your Resources
What's the best defense against technology problems of all kinds? Education, of course. Consequently, when you come across particularly helpful articles, how-to guides, and the like--you know, the kind packed in PCWorld and on them with your family, friends, and colleagues. The more they know, the better prepared they'll be when trouble strikes--and all the less likely to call you during dinner.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Start Your Own Internet Radio Station for Free

Always wanted to be a DJ or radio host? No more excuses--here's how to start your own radio station online without spending a dime.

If you're the kind of person who insists on handpicking a road-trip playlist rather than just setting your music player to shuffle, you were born for radio, baby. Fortunately, you don't have to let your daily life get in the way of your broadcasting fantasies. As long as you have a PC with a broadband connection, you have what it takes to inflict your talk-radio rants or musical taste on anyone who'll listen.
The Quick Way
For a quick and dirty way to stream music to your buddies, you can simply grab a male-to-male 3.5mm RCA audio cable, plug one end into the microphone jack and the other end into the headphone jack, and either start a Skype session or sign up for an account with a Web-based streaming service ( or, for example) to get going.
Your computer will feed your audio output (from the headphone jack) to the audio input (from the mic jack) and broadcast it to whoever is on your stream. All you have to do is open up your MP3 player of choice and you're ready to rock. even supports Youtube playlists, so your listeners can stay on after you sign off.Of course, if you want to set up something that gives your listeners a distinctly radio experience, you'll have to do a little more work than that.
Perform the steps below, and you'll have an online radio station that can stream to Icecast or Shoutcast servers like the big radio stations do.
Step 1: Get Your Gear
You don't need any special audio gear for this project--aside from a mic, if you plan to say anything (song introductions, station identifications, or whatever). What you do need is a handful of different apps: one to play your music files, one to turn the audio feed into a streamable source, and one to act as a server for sharing your stream with the world.
You have plenty of options to choose from in all of the above categories, and each app has its own merits. In this tutorial, we'll use Winamp to play the music, Edcast (the Winamp plug-in, not the stand-alone version) to turn it into a stream, and Icecast2 to serve it up. The Edcast/Icecast2 pairing is unusually easy to configure for different types of radio servers and audio formats.
You'll also need to download a special .DLL file (lame_enc.dll) if you want to broadcast in an MP3 format (which is more compatible with older audio players): Download the zipped version, unzip it, and put lame_enc.dll in Winamp's root directory (it usually is located in C:/Program Files/Winamp).
Step 2: Set Up Your Server
Before you start streaming, you'll need to estimate the size of audience you expect (or want). Your capacity to stream music depends on your Internet connection's upstream speed--the speed at which you can send data to other computers. At faster upstream speeds, you can accommodate more listeners with a higher level of audio quality.
Since both connection speeds and digital audio quality are measured in kilobits per second (kbps)--not in kilobytes per second (KBps)--you can figure out how much bandwidth you need to serve your radio station by plugging the numbers into this formula:
Simultaneous listeners x Audio bitrate = Required bandwidth
If you're hosting the station on a home PC with a typical cable or DSL connection, your upstream speeds probably aren't great. My home DSL's upstream speeds tops out at about 500 kbps (about 50 KBps), and a high-quality MP3 feed requires at least 192 kbps, so I'd be able to accommodate only two listeners and I'd barely be able to do anything with my Internet connection.
I could lower the quality of the feed to, say, 96 kbps, but then the audio quality of my stream would be significantly worse. For talk radio, it would probably be fine; but for music, it might sound as though songs were being transmitted over a phone.
Fortunately, the stream server doesn't have to live on the same PC as the audio source. You can use your PC to play the music with Winamp and to source it with Edcast, and then send the stream over the Internet to a dedicated radio stream server equipped with a high-bandwidth connection. If you use that approach, your broadband connection needs to strong enough to send out one stream to the dedicated server--but it doesn't have to be any stronger. Also, you don't have to monopolize your Internet connection to keep up your radio station, since you're sending a single stream to the server, which then handles each listener with its own broadband connection.
Typically, you have to pay for a dedicated radio server; the rates start at about $6 per month and increase as your radio station's traffic grows. But some free Shoutcast radio servers rely on ads to pay the bills. One such server,, invites you to broadcast a 128-kbps stream to up to 1000 users at no charge--and the ads stay out of your audio stream (instead, they get displayed on the Web page you use to advertise your station).
I recommend signing up for a dedicated radio server: The cost is far less than what you'd pay for a home Internet connection (which for practical purposes you wouldn't be able to use for anything else), and such servers are slightly easier to configure.
If you opt for a dedicated streaming server, make sure that you know the host's IP address or URL, the correct port number, the stream password, the server type (usually it's either Shoutcast or Icecast2), and the maximum bitrate (if applicable) before moving on.
If you want to run your own server, download and install Icecast2, open the app, and select Edit Configuration from the Configuration menu. This will open a text document called 'icecast.xml', which you'll have to tweak a bit. From top to bottom:
For the 'sources' tag, enter the maximum number of listeners you want your station to have. For the 'source-password' tag, enter the password you want to use for your stream app (Edcast). The 'relay-password' and 'admin-password' tags aren't important for this how-to, but change them from the default 'hackme' anyway. For the 'hostname' tag, enter your IP address. If you want to broadcast only to your network, use your internal network's IP address. Otherwise, you can find your outside IP address at The 'port' tag refers to the port you'd like to use to stream the music. I left mine on the default 8000. Remember, you'll probably need to open this port in your firewall in order for your radio station to work.
Save the icecast.xml doc (in the root icecast2 directory, usually C:/Program Files/icecast2), and click Start Server in Icecast2's main window.
Step 3: Configure the Source App
Now that your stream server is running, you need to give it something to stream. That's where Edcast comes in. Grab the Edcast Winamp plugin, open Winamp, go to Options, Preferences, Plug-ins, DSP/Effect, select edcast DSP v3 [dsp_edcast.dll], and click Configure active plugin.
Here you can set Edcast to use either your microphone jack or your Winamp playlist. Just click the mic picture to enable or disable the mic; when the mic is disabled, Edcast will use Winamp for its input. You can test this yourself by clicking on the sound-level meter to activate it, playing some music through Winamp, and toggling the mic off and on to see whether each input is working.
Next, click Add Encoder to add a new entry (Vorbis: Quality 0/Stereo/44100) in the box below, and double-click the new entry to configure it. Here you'll need to plug in your server settings--make sure that the server type is set to the right protocol (Shoutcast or Icecast2, depending on which server you chose in step 2), enter your server's IP in the Server IP field (if you're hosting the Icecast server on the same PC, it's your IP address), and enter the corresponding port and password.
You'll also want to set your encoder type here: AAC and MP3 tend to be the most widely compatible; AAC+ is optimized for lower-bitrate audio applications (perfect for streaming), but it sometimes doesn't sound as good; and Ogg Vorbis has fairly high audio quality at lower bitrates, but certain music player apps (iTunes, for example) don't natively support it.
If you're using Icecast2, note the 'mountpoint' entry in the Basic Settings tab. You'll need to put a path here depending on your encoder type: Ogg Vorbis streams can be called '/whatever.ogg'; AAC streams, '/whatever.aac'; and so on. This string will eventually appear at the end of your radio station's URL, as in ''.
When you're satisfied with the way your station works, you'll want to click over to the YP Settings tab to configure your public listing information (station name, URL, genre, and so on), but for now you don't need to mess with it.
Step 4: Play That Funky Music
Icecast2 (or your dedicated radio server) is up, Edcast is configured, and your Winamp collection is ready to rock. So click Connect in the Edcast window to connect Edcast to your radio server, and start spinning away.
It's no fun if you don't have an audience, though. If you opted for a separate radio server, you'll probably have your own URL (something like but if you're using Icecast2, the URL to access your radio stream will be http://(youripaddress):(port)/(mountpoint), without parentheses.
If your IP address is and you are using port 8000 and you set the mountpoint to '/stream.ogg', your listeners can tune in by pointing their audio player of choice to
Linking your radio station URL to your IP address can be a pain--particularly if you don't have a fixed IP address for your home broadband--because your listeners will have to keep up with your IP changes. To avoid this complication, you can register your own domain name; but if you don't want to shell out the cash, you can sign up for a free domain name instead.
Step 5: Don't Get Sued
The intricacies of broadcasting and copyright law are outside the scope of this how-to. Generally speaking, however, if you want to broadcast someone else's music legally, you need to obtain the permission of both the artist and the recording company that produced and distributes those recordings, which can cost a small-time broadcaster a lot of money and time.
Rather than play Russian roulette with the RIAA, consider acquiring licensing through a service such as, the JPL program of the SWCast Network, or LoudCity. These organizations offer different ways to get your station appropriately licensed for a monthly fee based on factors such as how many listeners you have.
You also need to ensure that your radio station complies with the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) when you program your playlists. has posted a summarized list of rules you must follow.
Alternatively, if you play your own music or if you get permission from independent bands that don't have a recording industry contract to play their music, you're all set. Music licensed under the Creative Commons can work, too, though it depends on the specific license that the artist uses: If you run advertisements on your station, you might not be able to use music licensed for noncommercial broadcasting only.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Intel is out with vPro for Core i5 and i7 Processors

Intel recently announced a new vPro platform for its Core processors to make remote maintenance and management of PCs easier in an enterprise.

Laptops and desktops with vPro technology enable IT administrators to use hardware-based technologies to manage and secure PCs through a wired or wireless network. The new vPro technologies will be in systems with Intel's Core i5 and Core i7 processors, which were announced earlier this year, Intel executives said during a webcast.
The vPro platform includes new hardware that can solve a larger number of problems than prior vPro platforms. The technologies could help reduce support costs and the number of support visits to desktops, said Rick Echevarria, vice president of the Intel architecture group.
For example, a technology called Anti-Theft 2.0 uses software and hardware technology to remotely disable systems and lock access to data if a PC falls into wrong hands. A message can also be designed for disabled PCs that will be displayed after boot. This feature will be especially important to secure data on laptops, which can get easily stolen. The technology can also enable a disabled laptop remotely.

The new platform also includes technology called Keyboard-Video-Mouse Remote Control (KVM Remote Control), which gives support personnel better control of PCs remotely. Intel has introduced new hardware to enable the KVM capability, which helps establish a stable connection to remote PCs, Echevarria said. System administrators get pre-boot access to systems, which helps solve a larger set of problems including disk and operating system failure.
In order to maintain privacy, users will need to agree to start a KVM session with support personnel, Echevarria said. Built-in KVM technology also helps cut costs as it reduces the need for a KVM switch or software usually needed to enable such functionality.
As part of vPro, the new Core i5 and Core i7 chips will take advantage of a new instruction called Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) for faster data encryption and decryption. That could help secure data residing in servers or virtualized environments.
Intel has worked with Microsoft to enable vPro features on Windows 7, said Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's server division, during the webcast. The platform enables Windows 7 to do things in System Center that previously required a desk-side visit from support, including remotely awakening and troubleshooting PCs.
Systems based on the latest vPro platform will include Intel's Q57 Express chipset. Close to 500 hardware and software vendors will take advantage of the latest vPro technology. PC makers including Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo will be releasing systems based on the platform, Intel said.

The company declined comment on whether the new platform will support systems with Advanced Micro Devices processors. But Echevarria said that there are scenarios that Intel has enabled with vPro that utilize specific Intel-developed technologies. For example, the new AES instructions are found only in Intel's new Core processors, and do not apply to platforms that don't include support for those instructions.
Advanced Micro Devices offers competitive tools to compete with vPro. It offers a tool to remotely fix PCs based on DASH (Desktop and Mobile Architecture for System Hardware), a suite of specifications set by Distributed Management Task Force for remote management of laptops and desktops.
Intel's Core vPro processor technology supports standards such as DASH, Echevarria said in an e-mail. "Intel is a contributor to the specifications from the DMTF. Remember that standards are necessary, but not always sufficient," he said.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Automate Web Searches with Google Alerts

Tired of trawling the Web for the latest news on, say, the Apple iPad? Or Tiger Woods' return to golf? How about a favorite band?
Typically, you get this kind of information by running a search--but that's a hassle if you end up running the same search every day or even several times per day. Why not flip things around and let the results come to you, automatically, at designated times?
That's the idea behind
Google Alerts, a free (natch) Google service that delivers topical search results to your inbox or RSS reader. The one and only requirement: a Gmail account.
To set up an alert, start by entering one or more search terms (just like you would for a regular Google search). Then, click the Type field to specify what source Google should use: News, Blogs, the Web, Video, Google Groups, or, if you want all of the above, Comprehensive.

Next, decide how often you want to receive alerts: "as it happens," once a day, or once a week. The first option is nice if you're following, say, a breaking news story, but keep in mind it can lead to a huge influx of e-mail: You'll get an alert every single time Google finds a match to your search term(s).
Google also gives you a choice of e-mail length: up to 20 results or up to 50 results. I can't see much point in choosing the former, unless perhaps you're reading your mail on a mobile device and want to keep messages brief.
Finally, decide if you want the alerts to arrive via e-mail or feed (i.e. RSS feed, which can go to your Google Reader page or the feed-reader of your choice).
I've used Google Alerts for a couple years now, and think it's one of the unsung heroes of the Google tool collection. It's a great time-saver, and an incredibly handy way to keep tabs on topics that interest you.

Friday, April 2, 2010

How Not to Shut Down Your Laptop

Here's how to avoid mucking up Windows, why you should use Hibernate and not Sleep.
Imagine my horror the other day when I saw an otherwise sharp friend of mine shut down his laptop by holding down the power button until the system turned off. Why is that a really bad idea? I'll explain this week--and I'll also tell you about a Web service that could very well save your life.
How Not to Shut Down Your PC
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!" I cried. "Why'd you do that?"
"What? I was just turning off my PC," he replied innocently.
Sometimes I forget that some of the stuff I take for granted isn't common knowledge. So in case you've been committing this same heinous shutdown crime, allow me to enlighten you.
That is not, repeat, not the proper way to shut down a PC. The proper way is to click Start, Shut down. (I know, it's ridiculous that after all these years Microsoft still forces you to use the Start button to end your computing session.) Alternately, you can press--and immediately release!--the power button, which will either shut down your PC or put it in sleep/hibernate mode, depending on how Windows is configured.
The only time you should press and hold the power button is if your computer is locked up and otherwise unresponsive. A five-second press will usually force a "hard" power-off, after which you should wait another five seconds before turning the machine back on. But if you do this all the time, Windows won't be able to perform its necessary shut-down housekeeping stuff, and ultimately you'll muck up the OS.
Learn Your Laptop's Power Settings
My aunt recently told me about a problem with her new laptop: Whenever she'd step away from it for more than a few minutes, she'd close the lid. Upon returning, she'd open the lid, only to be faced with a blank screen and no response from the mouse or keyboard.
Want to know why? The default lid-closing action for most laptops is to put the system in Sleep mode, and Windows is notoriously bad at waking up properly. That's why I advise most laptop users to use Hibernate mode instead, as it's much more reliable when it comes to waking up.
You see, Sleep (aka Standby) puts your system into a low-power, off-like state, allowing you to pick up where you left off after just a few seconds--in theory, anyway. A PC in Standby mode continues to consume battery power, so it's not uncommon to return to a "sleeping" PC to find that it's just plain dead.
Hibernate, however, saves your machine's current state to a temporary hard-drive file, then shuts down completely. When you start it up again, it loads that file and returns you to where you left off--no booting required.
Both ends of the Hibernate process take a little longer than sleep mode (usually 10-20 seconds, in my experience), but you avoid any of the issues that can arise when Windows suddenly loses power. And as noted, Sleep mode is notoriously flaky. If your system refuses to wake up properly, you'll end up losing whatever documents and/or Web pages you had open. Consequently, I recommend using hibernate most of the time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How to Upgrade Your Laptop's Hard Drive to an SSD

Want to speed up your laptop and lengthen its battery life? Swap the hard disk drive out for a speedy solid-state drive.
Solid-state drives are all the rage. Since SSDs have no moving parts, they're more rugged and shock-resistant than standard hard drives--which makes them perfect for laptops that get bumped around a bit. They offer fabulous read performance, too, though their write performance varies; random small writes can be very fast, but long writes of large block data (as you might have with continuous video recording) can be slower than on traditional hard drives.
However, upgrading to a solid-state drive isn't as easy as buying a drive and throwing it in your PC. Here are a few tips for picking out the right model, making sure that it will work with your setup, carefully cloning your old drive, and keeping the install process clean and painless. (Don't forget to read "How to Switch to a Solid-State Drive" for more advice.)
SSD Basics
The main drawback of a solid-state drive is the cost: Per gigabyte, SSDs are much more expensive than standard hard drives, which have come down dramatically in price in the past several years. While it's easy to find an inexpensive laptop with a 160GB, 250GB, or even 320GB hard drive, a high-quality 256GB SSD would likely set you back over $700. That's a high price to pay, particularly if your current laptop or netbook is a fairly low-cost unit.
SSDs come in two major types: SLC (single-level cell) and MLC (multi-level cell). An SLC SSD stores data as one bit per flash memory cell, while an MLC drive stores two or more bits per cell. As a result, MLCs are less expensive than SLCs at the same capacity point, since you need fewer physical flash memory components for greater capacity.
The downside is that MLC drives are slower than SLC units, though usually still much faster than regular hard drives. You'll typically find SLC drives in data centers and workstation-class environments, where the greater cost is mitigated by gains in productivity and reliability.
Even MLC drives can be expensive, especially at capacities of 200GB or more. Somewhere in the middle are MLC drives with a capacity of 80GB to 120GB; these tend to run from $200 at the 80GB point to $400 at the high end of 120GB MLCs. You can find lower capacities--as small as 30GB--but for the upgrade described in the following pages, we chose a 120GB MLC drive. Drives at the 120GB or 128GB capacity point (depending on the flash supplier) deliver the best blend of price, performance, and capacity.
Is Your Laptop Ready?
Before jumping in and swapping drives willy-nilly, consider whether your laptop is well suited for a solid-state drive. Here are a few concerns to keep in mind.
Does your laptop run Windows XP? If you have an older portable that shipped with Windows XP several years ago, dropping in an SSD is not a good idea. While SSDs can work with Windows XP, that OS isn't as well optimized for SSDs as Vista--and, more particularly, Windows 7. The newest Windows supports the TRIM command, which helps keep SSD performance optimized. We recommend not replacing your XP laptop's hard drive with an SSD. Does your laptop's BIOS support SSDs? The BIOS of some older laptops won't work properly with solid-state drives. Unfortunately, there's no easy rule of thumb to follow in this regard, so before you buy, try doing a Web search for your PC model and "SSD compatible" to see if other users have had upgrade issues. Can your laptop be physically upgraded? Some older laptops don't allow for easy upgrading of the hard drives. This is especially true for certain Macbook and Macbook Pro models. Make sure that upgrading won't void your warranty or require you to perform serious surgery on your laptop. If you have any doubts, be cautious and check online forums and other resources before attempting a swap to a solid-state drive. The technology is still new enough that the kinks and the potential backward-compatibility issues haven't been completely ironed out.
You have a wide array of SSDs from which to choose, since more companies offer SSDs than standard drives today. Of those companies, however, many are simply rebadging drives manufactured by others as their own.
We recommend sticking with a manufacturer that makes the flash drive itself, or that has its own engineering team behind the drive's components. If you're looking for suggestions, consult PCW's Top 5 Solid-State Drives chart to see which models came out ahead.
In the following pages you'll see how we upgraded an ultralight notebook from a 250GB hard drive to an OCZ Apex 120GB solid-state drive. The OCZ drive is a midrange, MLC SSD that lacks TRIM support, but we've seen it speed up our test laptop in everyday use.
Prepping for an SSD
After you've determined that your laptop is capable of handling a solid-state drive, you need to take a few steps prior to making the move.
If your laptop runs Windows Vista, make sure you've updated it to Service Pack 1. This will improve Vista's performance when running on the SSD. Note that Windows 7 is still a better OS for SSDs, but Vista should work fine. Update your system BIOS. This is particularly important if your Windows installation is running in Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) mode. AHCI implements native command queuing (NCQ), which enables greater efficiency in the way that standard hard-drive heads move around the platter. Since SSDs have neither platters nor heads, NCQ can adversely affect performance on SSDs. Newer AHCI BIOS support and drivers mitigate this somewhat. If your system is running in AHCI mode, try changing the BIOS storage access mode to IDE instead. This doesn't always work--you may end up with a blue screen if Windows isn't set up to boot from standard IDE mode. If this tweak does work, then keep your system in IDE mode. Check your drive layout. You can do so by clicking Start, selecting Run, and typing diskmgmt.msc to bring up the storage management control panel. Most laptops running Windows Vista or Windows 7 will have an extra, invisible partition that contains system recovery information; this partition often substitutes for a recovery DVD or CD. Windows 7 systems will also likely have a System Reserved partition, which contains various Windows boot loader information plus additional data if you use Windows 7 Ultimate's BitLocker encryption scheme. It's only 100MB, so it doesn't consume much space.The key issue is that you need to leave the System Reserved and hidden restore partitions at their exact size--otherwise, the laptop might not boot properly. I'll discuss how to do that in the next section.
Back up your data! There are two types of PC users: those who have lost data and those who will lose data. This upgrade process is safe, but whenever you make a dramatic change in your storage situation, you should first back up the system. Check the drive capacities. You may be moving from a higher-capacity hard disk drive to a lower-capacity SSD. If your current drive exceeds what the SSD can hold, you'll need to ditch some of your data. Back the files up to an external drive or burn them to CD or DVD if you need the information. Installing the SSD, Step by Step
For this article, we upgraded a fairly recent Windows 7 system, an Acer Ferrari One ultraportable laptop. Despite its name, the Ferrari One is just a slight cut above most netbooks in terms of performance. It has an 11-inch screen, and its small size and light weight make it easy to toss into a bag or tote to a coffee shop.
Since it is so portable, it may get banged up a little more than bulkier laptops, so we decided to swap out the existing 250GB Toshiba hard drive with an OCZ Apex 120GB SSD. This particular drive runs about $340 to $350 currently.
Swapping out a laptop hard drive means that you somehow need to get the data off the old drive and onto the new one. You have several methods to choose from.
Get a small external hard-drive case with a USB interface. Install the new drive in the case, and then clone the old drive onto the new drive via USB. (I'll talk about software for doing this in a moment.) After installing the new drive into the laptop, you can take the old drive and pop it into the USB case, which allows you to use your old drive for backups or additional storage. Using a third, external drive, make an exact copy of the disk image on the old drive and copy it as a file to the external drive. Install the new drive and then reverse the process, copying the disk-image file from the external drive to the new drive. Use an external device, such as the Thermaltake BlackX hard-drive dock shown in the photo above, to make the drive clone; then, after the cloning process is complete, swap in the new drive. The Clean Windows InstallIn addition to hardware considerations, you need to think about what software will help make the swap process as easy as possible.
You can simply install Windows onto the new drive, and then restore to it all of the data you backed up previously. (You did back up your data, right?) This approach makes sense if you're thinking about upgrading from Windows Vista to Windows 7, for example.
Keep in mind that newer laptops rarely ship with driver or accessory CDs, and often have drivers hidden on a restore partition. Obviously, that restore partition isn't useful any longer if you've changed the operating system.
So you'll need not only your data but also new drivers. Though Windows 7 offers a substantial number of drivers of its own for older hardware, you'll likely have some piece of hardware on your laptop that still requires an updated driver. If you decide to do a clean Windows install on your drive, make sure you download all the drivers first--especially the networking drivers! After all, if your plan is to update the operating system and then download the rest of the drivers afterward, you should be certain that your network hardware--wired or wireless--is working.
If you do take this approach, use a migration tool to move your data and applications. You can use Windows' own Windows Easy Transfer, or consider a more streamlined, third-party tool such as Laplink PC Mover.
Drive-Cloning Software
If you don't want to change the operating system, the easiest way to upgrade your laptop drive is to use a drive-cloning tool. That's how we performed the drive swap on our test machine.
Software that can make an exact, bit-for-bit copy of drive partitions has been around for years. Utilities such as Norton Ghost, Acronis True Image, and even the free Drive Image XML are incredibly useful for making backups, as well as for migrating hard drives.
For our example here, we used Acronis True Image Home 2010, a $50 utility. We've long used the professional version of True Image for cloning system drives.
You can use a drive-cloning tool in one of two ways. The first method is to create a bootable CD and then boot from that CD and run the software to copy the drive. The second approach is to install the app in Windows and then clone the drive by running the software within Windows. We used the latter method since it didn't require us to attach an external optical drive to our netbook-class laptop.
Before we started the cloning, we popped the Apex SSD into the Thermaltake drive dock and then plugged the dock's power cord into the wall. Prior to booting the PC, we plugged a USB cable from the drive dock into one of the USB ports on the laptop. We then turned everything on, waited for the USB drive to be recognized, and ran True Image.
Looking at the drive layout (as in the screenshot above), we knew that we had to keep the recovery partition at 12GB and the System Reserved partition at 102MB. The main partition was listed as 220.78GB, so that had to shrink. Luckily, the test laptop was a fairly new system, so we had only about 22GB of actual data and applications on the hard drive, which meant that we didn't have to move any data off to make space.
We installed True Image Home 2010 on the test laptop, and then ran the application and chose 'Clone Disk'.
When presented with the choice of automatic or manual drive cloning, we chose manual, since we wanted to manage how the three partitions were cloned.
We then selected the source drive, which was the Toshiba drive, with a listed capacity of 232.9GB. You can see the layout charted at the bottom of the screenshot here. Since we had only two drives connected, the OCZ Apex became the target drive.
Important note: Make sure to pick the correct target and destination drives. This is the most dangerous part of the whole process. If you select them incorrectly, you run the risk of copying over your system installation, losing your OS and all of your data!
In the next step, we selected what Acronis calls the "move method." Since we wanted to keep the partition sizes the same, we picked 'As is'. With True Image Home 2010, this choice is fairly smart: It makes exact duplicates of the small partitions, including their size, but knows that the main partition will be smaller, and resizes that one appropriately. In past versions of True Image, you had to select 'Manual' and type in the partition sizes yourself.
We then clicked 'Next', and we were off and running--True Image performed a drive-integrity check, rebooted the system, and proceeded to perform the actual cloning process in DOS mode.
If you wish, when you do the cloning, you can watch the transfer process as it happens. Or you can watch paint dry. We elected to come back after it finished.
Swapping Drives
Once the drive-cloning process finishes, it's time to physically swap the drives. For different laptops you'll find varying ways of removing installed hardware. The Acer we used had the hard drive under an easily removable panel, accessible after the removal of a pair of small Phillips-head screws.
In our case, no screws held the drive in place once we took off the panel. However, the connector that attached the drive to the system looked potentially fragile, so we took great care in slowly working it off the drive.
You'll have to check your own laptop to see how the drive is connected. Some Dell notebooks have fixed connectors inside the laptop shell, so removal is just a matter of lifting the back of the drive and slowly pulling it straight out. Other laptops also screw the drive into the shell, so watch out for that. In all cases, be very careful about the drive connector--one broken connector or cable, and you're looking at an expensive repair bill.
Our test Acer laptop used a pair of rails attached to the drive to align the component inside the laptop shell. The only gotcha with these rails is that you have to reattach them in the correct orientation for the drive to slip cleanly back into the system. Be just as cautious when reattaching the data and power connector as you were when you detached it.
Once we installed the new SSD, we fired up the laptop and waited. Our Acer Ferrari One shipped with Windows 7 Home Premium, and as a result it booted up nicely. Given that the laptop was new, with a new version of Windows and the latest BIOS installed, the whole affair went smoothly. We've been using the system with the Apex drive installed for a few days now, and it has been running well.
While we didn't run exhaustive drive benchmarks--our test laptop isn't much more than a netbook, remember--we did check boot times and shutdown times with a stopwatch. With the standard hard drive, the laptop booted in 54.59 seconds and shut down in 17.94 seconds. With the SSD in place, it took 38.71 seconds to start up and 13 seconds to shut down. So not only does the system boot about 30 percent faster, but it also shuts down about 28 percent more quickly. Applications seem to launch much more speedily, too. We'll mark this upgrade a success.