Sometimes the things you notice least in life—your toothbrush, a knife and fork, your shoelaces—play an important role. They’re not flashy or earth shattering, but you’d be hard pressed to get through the day without them.
Windows XP’s built-in utilities are similar. These often overlooked little programs, like Notepad, Clipboard, and the Backup utility, perform key functions you use all the time—even if you’re barely aware of them.
This chapter tells you how to get the most out of these programs, as well as some others you might not even know about, like the utility that sends faxes straight from your computer. You’ll also learn about some inexpensive alternatives—perfect for when Windows needs a little more oomph than its built-in tools can provide.
Backing up is like buying insurance: you don’t need it until you need it. And then you really need it. Unfortunately, most backup programs are not only expensive, they come with phonebook-sized manuals scary enough to make lost data seem like an appealing alternative.
Windows jumps into the breach: its backup software is free. And while the program is not the easiest to use, the following hints will help get you started. (If you’re interested in spending a little bit of money for backup software that’s slightly friendlier, skip ahead to Section 4.1.3 for tips on two alternatives to the Windows backup utility.)
To make matters worse, the Windows XP CD’s Welcome screen doesn’t give you a chance to install the backup program even if you select “Install optional Windows components.” The backup program is nowhere on the list.
But the phantom program is available, and if you have the Home Edition, you can easily install it manually. To do so, pop the Windows installation disk into your PC, navigate to My Computer → D: → Valueadd → Msft → Ntbackup, and double-click the file NTBACKUP.MSI. An installer launches and installs the backup program.
You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Back. Up. Your. Data. It’s not a question of whether your system will crash, but when it will. Losing data is painful, recovering it is time-consuming, tedious, and often impossible. Depending on the amount of work you do on your computer, schedule backups at least weekly and possibly daily or semi-daily. Step 6 in this hint gives you tips on scheduling.
To set up the Backup program:
Open it by choosing Start → All Programs → Accessories → System Tools → Backup. The program automatically launches a wizard.
On the Welcome page of the wizard, you can switch to Advanced mode for juicy tasks like viewing reports of previous backups.
Click through the first two wizard screens until the What to Back Up screen appears (Figure 4-1). Choose which files you want to back up, and then click Next.
The first two options—“My documents and settings” and “Everyone’s documents and settings”—back up the My Documents and Favorites folders, each account’s desktop settings, and each account’s Web browser’s cookies. (See Section 6.2 for more details on cookies.) This option is a good one if you’re primarily concerned about preserving your files. In this mode, the program does not save your programs, so it uses a lot less space and goes a lot faster. If you think you may need to restore the whole system sometime, and you’ve lost the original XP and other program CDs, try the second or third choice.
The next option is “All information on this computer.” As described in Sidebar 4-1, this option creates a system restore disk, but unless you sprang for the Pro edition of Windows XP, that disk won’t restore squat.
If you keep important files in places other than the My Documents or Favorites folder, select the third choice, “Let me choose what to back up.” When you do, a new window launches that lets you pick and choose which folders and files on your hard disk to back up.
Choose the drive and folder where you want to save your backup files, type in a name for your backup, and then click Next.
Backup lets you store your data on tapes, floppy disks, a network location, or your hard drive. Thing is, your hard drive may be the only option of those four that’s practical for you...but when the computer crashes, you’ll lose your hard drive, and thus all your carefully backed up data. If you fit this model, Backing Up to a CD explains a workaround for storing your backups on CDs.
Select the type of backup you want to perform, and then click Next.
After you choose which files to back up and where to save them, you come to the wizard’s final screen, which says you only need to click Finish to start the backup. Rather than finishing at this point, though, you should click the Advanced button, which gives you control over the type of backup to make. The box on Five Ways to Back Up Your Files, explains your choices in detail.
Select any verification, compression, and shadow copy options—they’re all described by the wizard—and then click Next.
Some of these options may be grayed out depending on your computer’s capabilities.
Choose whether to append or replace your backups, and then click Next.
If you have a huge storage drive, you can append your backups—a bulky system, but one that will leave you with archives of your files as they change over time. On the other hand, if your storage space is limited, replacing your backups takes up far less space and still leaves you with the most recent version of everything. The exception is Incremental backups; if you’ve chosen this type, append your data in order to keep a cumulative cache of your changes.
Choose when to back up, and then click Next.
Select Now to immediately run the backup. Select Later to schedule a backup; if you pick this option, you can set a regular schedule for automatic backups. The program gives you a lot of choices for scheduling. For most people, weekly backups are a reasonable minimum schedule, but daily backups are better. If the thought of losing a day’s worth of work makes you queasy, back up every day.
Backup lets you save multiple schedules, which is a good idea if you want to, say, schedule a Normal backup for every Friday (which will save all your files) and then Differential backups for every other day of the week (which will save only files you’ve changed since the last backup—as explained in Sidebar 4-3). You simply run through the backup wizard twice—once for each schedule.
Click Finish to complete the backup.
Say the worst has happened: Your hard disk goes on the fritz, and you need to restore your files. If you’ve followed the steps for creating backups, you’re in luck. Start Windows XP’s Backup program in Wizard mode, and then choose Restore Files and Settings. The program walks you through a simple series of prompts for restoring individual files, or for restoring an entire backup set.
You can’t beat the free price of Windows XP’s built-in backup program, but after using it a few times, you might get the feeling that Microsoft hired the IRS to design the thing. The good news is that if you’re willing to pony up a little bit of money, you can get a fairly decent backup program. Two reasonably priced, well-designed options are Backup Plus and InfoStash.
One of the strengths of this program is its simplicity, particularly when restoring backups. Even though Backup Plus saves its backup file with a .bac extension, behind the scenes, the backup files are plain old .zip files. So if you want to restore files or folders, all you have to do is rename the backup file with a .zip extension, and then open the file with an unzipping program, such as WinZip or the zip program built into Windows. Your files are then waiting for you, ready to be used.
Backup Plus also lets you schedule backups, and unlike Windows’ own backup program, Backup Plus can save files to any media, including CD-Rs and CD-RWs. Figure 4-2 shows how easy it is to add files to a backup set.
Backup Plus, available at http://www.backupplus.net, is free to try. It costs $39.95 if you decide to keep it.
InfoStash is another easy-to-use backup program. In addition to backing up your ordinary documents and settings, InfoStash comes with one major hallelujah-option: it can also back up your emails and your address book. Backups are stored as zip files, so restoring lost files is as easy as opening up a regular zip file. And InfoStash lets you set your level of compression, from 1 to 9. With less compression, the backup is faster, but the resulting file is larger.
You can download and try InfoStash for free from http://www.permutations.com. It costs $29.95 if you decide to keep it.
Windows XP’s two most popular utilities are Notepad and the Clipboard. In fact, you use the Clipboard countless times every day without even knowing it: every time you cut, copy, or paste something, Windows stashes and retrieves the goods from its trusty Clipboard. And if you edit a lot of text files, you may use Notepad, which is faster and simpler than Word for editing small files. Both programs are more powerful than they appear; the following hints help you tap into their hidden abilities.
When using Notepad, you may want to put a time and date stamp in a file—for example, if you’re adding comments to a document and want to show when the notes were made. To insert a time and date stamp at any point in a Notepad file, simply Press F5.
Notepad can also automatically insert a time and date stamp in a file every time you open it. This trick is especially useful if you’re using a file to keep a journal or work record: Each time you open your file to compose a new entry, Notepad inserts a fresh time and date stamp. Simply create a blank text file with .LOG as the first line in the file, then press Save and close the file. Every time you open the file, Notepad inserts the current time and date. All you have to do is type away.
Notepad includes a little-known feature that lets you automatically insert headers and footers into your documents when you print them. (A header is text that appears at the top of every page in a document, like the title or your name; a footer is text that appears at the bottom of each page, like a page number.)
To create headers and footers in Notepad, choose File → Page Setup. The Page Setup dialog box, shown in Figure 4-3, appears. In the Page Setup dialog box, use the Header and Footer fields and type in the text you want to appear—or type in any of the key combinations listed in Table 4-1 for Notepad’s built-in header or footer commands.
You can use more than one command for the header or footer. For example, to insert a header that displays the file name and page number and aligns the header to the right, type this command into the Header box:
&f &p &r
Make sure to leave a space between each item so the header or footer is easy to read. You can also combine text with header and footer commands. For example, the command Page &p in a header or footer prints Page 1 on the first page, Page 2 on the second page, and so on.
Notepad is great for plain text files, but if style’s what you’re after, you’ll find the program a bit skimpy on formatting features. Furthermore, Notepad isn’t so hot for creating HTML pages, because it doesn’t include any HTML-specific help or commands. The more powerful WordPad, also built into Windows XP, offers some formatting features, such as tools for coloring text and inserting tabs, but not much else.
But there are plenty of Notepad alternatives that can handle text formatting, HTML coding, and programming. NoteTab Light and EditPlus are two of the best options available.
If you’re budget conscious but want an excellent, all-around text editor, NoteTab Light is a good choice. For starters, it’s free. It includes a souped-up Clipboard that lets you save boilerplate text for later use, and it also lets you open multiple documents at the same time. If you’re a power hound, NoteTab Light lets you create macros—mini-programs that automatically perform a series of operations—or pull from its library of built-in macros. Creating HTML files is a snap thanks to a set of tools that lets you quickly insert HTML code.
NoteTab Light also comes in two premium versions (NoteTab Standard, which costs $9.95, and NoteTab Pro, which costs $19.95). These versions include features like a spell checker and an outline creation tool. All three programs are available from http://www.fookes.com.
If you create HTML pages and you’re looking for an excellent text editor with lots of HTML shortcuts, EditPlus (Figure 4-4) is a good bet. It includes an HTML toolbar that lets you quickly insert common HTML tags, choose Web-safe colors and characters, build tables, and view Web pages within the program.
EditPlus is available at http://www.editplus.com; it’s free to try and costs $30 if you decide to keep it.
The Windows Clipboard holds a single chunk of information at a time. If you copy a phrase, a paragraph, a graphic, or the entire contents of a Word file, Windows saves that information on the Clipboard and then pastes it from the Clipboard to a document when you select the Paste command. A lot of the time, you cut or copy something to the Clipboard and paste it right away. But if you forget what’s on the Clipboard, how do you view it?
Enter an obscure little Windows XP utility called the ClipBook Viewer, which lets you see the current contents of your Clipboard or save individual clips as files you can use later. To run the ClipBook Viewer, type clipbrd at the command prompt or in the Run box. The Viewer opens and displays the contents of your Clipboard, as shown in Figure 4-5.
When you run the ClipBook Viewer for the first time, your current clip may appear in a minimized window at the bottom left corner of the Viewer window. To see the clip, maximize it by clicking the middle button on the minimized bar.
You can use the ClipBook Viewer to save individual clips as files. Choose File → Save As, name the file, and save it to a folder. Windows XP saves the file with a .clp extension, but you can’t open it just by double-clicking. When you want to open the clip, you have to run Clipbook Viewer, choose File → Open, and then browse to the correct file. After you’ve re-opened a file in Clipbook Viewer, you can then paste it anywhere you’d normally paste something.
Windows XP’s Clipboard is about as basic as it gets. It holds one clip at a time, and as soon as you save a new clip, the previous one vanishes. There’s no way to save
boilerplate text or other frequently used files, and once a clip is gone, it’s gone (unless you’ve saved the clip as a file, as described in the previous hint).
For a much better Clipboard, get ClipMate, shown in Figure 4-6. It lets you save libraries of clips in different folders, combine multiple clips into one large clip, see thumbnail previews of your clips, and control how individual applications capture clips, essentially turning the clipboard into the useful tool it always should have been.
ClipMate is shareware. You can try it for free, but it costs $20 if you decide to keep it. Download it from http://www.thornsoft.com.
Backup, Notepad, and the Clipboard are probably the best-known Windows utilities, but Windows XP has a few other gems stored in its utility closet. This section covers them and highlights a few tricks worth trying, like the Fax program and the Calculator.
Although faxes seem archaic in the era of instant messages and email, paper was supposed to become obsolete, too. Reality check: faxing remains a part of life (those perpetual-motion machine sketches are tough to describe in an email). When you’re hit with the need to send or receive a fax, Windows XP can come to the rescue. One of its least-known but most useful utilities is the Fax program.
Your computer has to have a modem connected to a normal phone line in order to use the Fax utility. It can’t send or receive faxes over a cable or DSL modem. And you can’t talk on that phone line while you send or receive faxes.
Despite its obvious benefits, Fax isn’t automatically installed with Windows XP, so you’ll need to dig out your Windows XP installation CD. Once you pop the CD into your computer and the opening screen appears, choose Install Optional Windows Components → Fax Services. That’s all there is to installing it.
If you want to fax a document that’s on your computer already (for example, a Word document), simply open it, then select File → Print. In the Print dialog box, swap your normal printer for the Fax tool by clicking the drop-down list next to Name, and then choosing Fax. A wizard launches and takes you step-by-step through the process of sending a fax using your modem, as shown in Figure 4-7.
If you have a printed document you want to fax, you first have to scan it into your computer, open the scanned file using a graphics program, and then fax the file using the Print command as described earlier.
If you simply need to shoot a note to somebody and a fax cover sheet alone will do the job (with no document attached), try this trick. Choose Start → All Programs → Accessories → Communications → Fax → Fax Console. Once the console opens, choose File → Send a Fax. Fill out the form, including the name of the person you’re sending the fax to and the phone number, and Windows sends your fax.
For a quicker way to open the Fax Console, at the command prompt or in the Run box, type fxsclnt.exe and then press Enter.
You can also receive faxes with the Fax program. To accept an incoming fax as it’s ringing, open the Fax Console (Start → All Programs → Accessories → Communications → Fax → Fax Console), and then choose File → “Receive a fax now.” To read the fax, select your inbox in the Fax Console, and then double-click the document you want.
The Fax program lets you send only one document at a time, not a group of documents. But you can combine several documents into one large document and fax that file.
If you want a more sophisticated program, WinFax Pro in a good choice, available from http://www.symantec.com for $99.95. It includes other features as well, such as integration with email programs and the ability to add a signature to outgoing faxes.
Windows XP’s Calculator is good for basic calculations. To run it, choose Start → All Programs → Accessories → Calculator. Or, at the command prompt or in the Run box, type calc.exe and press Enter.
But if you need a more powerful calculator, say, for something geeky like financial, engineering, or scientific calculations, this built-in utility isn’t up to the task. There is, however, an excellent free calculator called Calc98 that you can download from http://www.calculator.org. Calc98 lets you perform lots of sophisticated calculations, including statistical functions and metric unit conversions. And it can also operate using different number bases, like binary and hexadecimal. If you’re in the mood to go really old school, it’ll even let you calculate using Roman numerals.
You can also do some seriously sophisticated calculating in the Google search box (http://www.google.com), which recognizes an amazing array of equations. Just type your calculation into a Google search box, and then press Enter. For more on the Google calculator, check out http://www.google.com/help/features.html#calculator.
When you double-click a graphics file you’ve created using Windows XP’s Paint utility, you’d expect it to open in Paint so you can work on it again. But for some reason, Windows XP opens the file with the Windows Picture and Fax Viewer instead. If you want to open the file in Paint, you have to use a workaround: Right-click the file, and then choose Open With → Paint.
To avoid having to do this every time, right-click an image you created with the Paint utility, and then choose Open With → Choose Program. The Open With dialog box, shown in Figure 4-8, appears. Choose Paint from the list, turn on “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file,” and then click OK. From now on, whenever you double-click a file created with Paint, it’ll open in Paint.
For third-party photo-editing software you may like even better than Paint, see Sidebar 4-5.
Open the Character Map by selecting Start → All Programs → Accessories → System Tools → Character Map. Choose a font from the Font box, and then click the character you want to place in your document. Windows XP displays a magnified version of whatever character you’ve chosen, as shown in Figure 4-9. Choose Select, and Windows copies the character to the Clipboard. From there, you can paste it into any program.
Often, the quickest way to open a built-in Windows XP application or utility is to use the command prompt or Run box, instead of clicking through a series of menus. (To get to the Run box, choose Start → Run. To get to the command prompt, choose Start → Run, type command, and press Enter.) For example, to open Notepad, at the Run box or a command prompt, type notepad.exe and press Enter.
You can run dozens of Windows XP utilities and programs this way. Table 4-2 lists Windows XP’s built-in programs and utilities and their executable file names. (An executable file name is the name of the file required to run a particular program.) At the command prompt or in the Run box, type any of these file names for a quicker way to open various wizards, programs, and utilities.
Application, Component, or Utility
Runs the Accessibility Wizard, which helps those with special vision, hearing, and mobility needs customize their computer.
Launches the Windows Address Book so you can keep track of contacts.
Shows you information about files’ attributes, such as whether they have been backed up.
Launches the Windows backup program (Section 4.1.2).
makecab.exe or diantz.exe (Both launch the same program.)
Launches the Windows Calculator.
Launches the Windows Character Map (see Figure 4-9).
Launches a utility that checks your hard disk for problems and errors.
Tells you whether a hard disk uses the NTFS file system (see Section 3.3.1).
Runs the Clipbook Viewer for viewing the Clipboard (see Section 4.2.4).
cmd.exe or command.exe (Both options do the same thing.)
Launches a window that lets you enter MS-DOS commands.
Launches the Control Panel.
Lets you change the computer’s date and time.
Launches the Device Manager, which controls hardware settings.
Launches the Disk Cleanup utility, which deletes unneeded files from your hard disk.
Runs the Display Properties dialog box, which lets you change how your desktop looks.
Runs the Fax Console (see Section 4.3.1).
Runs a utility that lets you create simple cover pages for faxes.
Launches the Folder options dialog box, which lets you customize how your folders look and behave in Windows Explorer.
Opens the Fonts folder. Double-click any font to see a page of sample text.
Launches the game FreeCell.
ftp.exe or tftp.exe (Both options do the same thing.)
Launches the Game Controllers dialog box, which lets you change settings for joysticks and similar devices.
Runs the Hearts game.
Launches the Help and Support Center (Figure 6-20).
Launches the HyperTerminal communications program, which lets you connect to Telnet sites.
Launches the Internet backgammon game.
Launches the Internet Checkers game.
Launches Internet Explorer.
Launches the Internet Hearts game.
Launches the Internet Properties dialog box, which lets you control security, privacy and other settings for Internet Explorer.
Launches the Internet Reversi game.
Launches the Internet Spades game.
Lets you change your keyboard’s properties.
Lets you log off Windows XP.
Launches a program to magnify parts of your screen.
Runs the Microsoft NetMeeting conferencing program.
Runs the Minesweeper game.
Lets you customize mouse properties.
Launches the MSN Explorer browser.
Opens the Network Connections folder.
Launches the New Connection Wizard, to help you create a new network connection.
Launches Notepad (see Section 4.2).
Launches an onscreen keyboard that lets you input text without typing.
Launches the Outlook Express email program.
Launches the Paint graphics program.
Lets you set options for your modem and telephone.
Runs the Pinball game.
Runs the Ping utility, which lets you check to see whether Web sites are up and running.
Lets you control how your computer uses its power.
Opens the Printer and Faxes folder.
Lets you edit the Registry.
Lets you control a scanner or camera.
Lets you send a fax (see Section 4.3.1).
Lets you shut down your PC.
Launches the Solitaire game.
Lets you record sounds.
Lets you control your sound and audio devices.
Lets you control speech recognition.
Launches the Spider Solitaire game.
Launches the System Properties dialog box, which lets you examine and control many key settings for your computer, like Automatic Updates and System Restore.
Launches System Restore, which lets you restore your computer to a state it was in previously.
Runs the Task Manager.
Lets you control the volume of your sound system and speakers.
Launches Windows Explorer.
Runs Windows Media Player.
Runs Windows Messenger.
Runs Windows Movie Maker, for making movies.