Tip o’ the Week #104 – Windows 7’s clock & date

clip_image001One of the neat little design touches of Windows 7 that changed as a result of usage analysis was the calendar that is shown when you click the clock on your system tray. User feedback taught product designers that in previous versions of Windows, users would often go into the “Date & Time Properties” dialog box, not to set the date but just to see the calendar – eg what date is it 3 weeks from now?, or what day is Christmas Day .?

Of course, in earlier Windows versions, if you changed the date by clicking on another month/year, and hit the OK button, it would actually change the system date. not necessarily a good thing. In Windows 7, the default behaviour is to just show you the calendar, and easily allow you to jump between months, years, even decades.


Of course, you could just use Outlook, but a) not everyone uses Outlook all the time (the poor non-productive fools!) and b) it’s usually just quick & easy to click on the taskbar to check a date. If you are in Outlook, did you know that you can type in expressions into any date field – eg the Start date of a meeting. “3 weeks on Tuesday” , “next Friday”, “in 60 days”, “7d”, “Christmas 2013” . there are loads of variants to try.

Ticking away, the moments that make up the time of day

clip_image006If you’re a habitual jet-setter, are planning a holiday in foreign climes or just want to know the time in another part of the world, you can also add multiple clocks in Windows 7. Click on the Date/Time part of the system tray, click on Change date and time settings. and then the Additional clip_image007Clocks tab.


Sure beats those £2,000 “executive wall clocks” that feature in the back pages of in-flight magazines.

Tip o’ the Week #101 – Finding files for dialogs

clip_image001How many times a month do you have a file (a picture, maybe, or a document) that you want to upload to some website, or attach to an email. and you know where the file is, but then have to navigate through a dialog box to locate it from within the application? I can sometimes think of 2 or 3 such scenarios in a given day.

There are lots of alternatives, of course – if you want to attach a document that’s on your desktop to an email, then you can just drag & drop it. But many dialog boxes don’t give you that flexibility – some apps will make you point to a file, by navigating to the file’s folder and selecting it from there.

clip_image002[4]This can be complicated if you have lots of documents in the folder, especially ones whose names don’t mean a lot – think about a folder with 100s of pictures, all called P0001234.jpg or similar. When you’re previewing the picture in Explorer, it might be easy to see which one you want to share, but if you’re uploading it through a dialog box that doesn’t give you a preview of the pics, then you’ll need to remember its location & name, so you can point to the file.

clip_image003[4]One approach would be to just click on the address bar within the Explorer window, and copy that to the Clipboard – CTRL-C – then you can typically paste that into the upload dialog box, and at least you will be pointed at the folder where the files exist. If you start typing the name of the file at the end of clip_image005[4]the path in the Address bar, then it may let you select the full name (using the up & down arrow keys to select) and copy that to the clipboard (CTRL-C again) too. All very well for the keyboard jockey but there is an easier way.

Copy as path

If you’ve selected a file in an Explorer window, hold down the SHIFT key and right-click, and you’ll see a new option shows up – Copy as path. This somewhat cryptic command copies the name of the file and it’s full path into the clipboard – so you can pick exactly the photo or document, and can easily paste that full path and file name into any dialog box.

Here’s an example of a SharePoint 2010 Upload Document dialog; just right-click in the “File name” box, paste the full name and hit Open.


On the face of it, this might not seem like a revolutionary function – but start using it and you’ll be amazed at how much time and aggravation it saves you. ZDNet’s Ed Bott said, “I use this shortcut constantly. It’s amazing how many times it comes in handy. It will save you many, many clicks.”

Tip o’ the Week #99 – Is your hard disk just “on”?

clip_image001One frustrating aspect of a modern PC is when it seems to slow down inexplicably, even when it’s not obviously busy. Sometimes that could be evidenced by the hard disk light flickering a lot of the time, or in extreme cases, solidly lit up. There are a number of reasons why this could be the case – here are some tips on finding out why and maybe what to do about it.

Your PC is just not good enough

A common reason why your disk is really busy (sometimes known as thrashing) is simply that the machine doesn’t have enough oomph to do what it’s being told to. It could be you just don’t have enough of some critical resources, such as memory. If there isn’t enough physical memory (RAM) in the machine, then when an application wants to hold information in memory, something else which is currently in memory needs to be “paged out” – written to disk, temporarily.

clip_image002That’s all very well, until the application that was using the data that’s just been paged out needs it back -then, something else is paged out, and the previous data is read back in. If you get to the point where you’re really short of RAM, the PC will be thrashing to the point of exclusion to practically everything else. The whole process is a lot like the juggling you might need to do when you’re trying to work with more than two things but are limited to having only two hands.

The only solution to not having enough RAM is to add some more (not always straightforward), or make the machine do less. Look in Resource Monitor (press Windowskey-R then enter “resmon“) under the memory tab, and you’ll see how much of your physical memory is being used. You can also look and see which applications are using up all the memory and maybe think about shutting them down, or making room for them by closing other clip_image003applications.

Modern day whack-a-mole

Curing performance problems can be like pushing a blockage from one place to another, or like the whack-a-mole fairground game where you hit one issue and another one just pops up elsewhere. If your PC isn’t running out of memory, maybe the processor (CPU) is the bottleneck, or perhaps it’s the disk itself.

If the CPU is slow, then everything else will feel pretty slow – the whole machine will just feel like it’s overworked. If the disk is slow, then the machine will bog down every time it needs to do something disk-intensive. Combine a possibly slow disk with running out of memory, and you’ve got the perfect storm – a PC that is constantly shuttling stuff to-and-fro between memory and disk, and burdening the CPU with all the additional overhead to do so.

There are some things you can do to mitigate the “disk light on” issue, however.

It’s probably Outlook

ToW #96 covered an issue where Outlook might use up a large amount of disk space, and maintaining that kind of volume will put something of a strain on the PC. Outlook is probably the heaviest desktop application most of us use, and if it isn’t hammering your memory or processor, then it will probably be nailing your hard disk.


It’s still worth making sure your hard disk isn’t badly fragmented, a situation where files end up scattered across the surface of the disk in lots of pieces or fragments. If you have a nice clean disk that’s largely empty, then Windows would write a new file out in one big splurge of “contiguous” fragments or clusters.

When files are deleted, all that happens is those clusters that are currently used, get marked as free so they can be over-written in future. If the disk gets increasingly full up, though, it may be that the only free space exists in small chunks all over the place – meaning Windows has to do more work to read and write files.

clip_image004You can run Disk Defragmentation by going to Start and typing in Disk Defrag, then you’ll be able to run the Defrag process interactively, or schedule it to happen in the background – ensuring that you pick a time that you won’t be really busy on your PC, otherwise it will be the Disk Defrag that’s making the light glow.

To allow fragmentation a better shot of cleaning up the disk, it may be a good idea to close applications that are likely to be using big files (like Outlook, whose OST file is probably the biggest file on your hard disk), and if you have a high degree of fragmentation, then it would be worth getting rid of the hidden Hibernate File on your hard disk – that’s where Windows writes the contents of memory if the battery on your laptop runs out, so it’s gigabytes in size.

clip_image005To delete your Hibernate File, you need to fire up a command prompt in Administrator mode – go to Start menu and start typing command then right-click and choose Run as administrator.

A quick alternative is to go to Start, then type cmd and press CTRL-SHIFT-ENTER, which tells Windows to run whatever you’ve typed in as an administrator. Try it: you too can run notepad as an admin.

Once you have your admin Command Prompt (denoted by the window title of Administrator C:\Windows\etc), then type powercfg -h off to switch the Hibernate functionality off, and in so doing, ditch the hiberfil.sys file. Once you’ve finished defragmenting, you can switch hibernate back on by repeating with powercfg -h on.


Is your disk just too slow? How would you know?

Finally for this week, there’s a possibility that your disk is just basically slow and there’s not a lot you can do about that short of replacing it. If you look in Device Manager (Start -> then type Device Manager), and expand out the Disk Drives section, you will see what kind of hard disk you have – try Binging the cryptic model number and you might find the specifications of the disk – does it spin at 5,400rpm or 7,200rpm, or is I solid state? Does it have any cache? Maybe reviewers on Amazon et al will pan that model’s performance, or even suggest that a simple firmware upgrade of the disk itself will solve performance issues. [Here Be Dragons – be very careful if you go down this route].

You can see if your disk is the bottleneck to PC performance by looking at the Disk tab in Resource Monitor, clip_image007expanding out the Storage section. You’ll see Disk Queue Length as one of the columns on there – that’s a measure of how much stuff Windows is waiting for to be read from or written to the disk. If the machine is busy and doing a lot of disk work, this might be legitimately quite high (maybe double figures) but if it’s sustained then it could be illustrating that the disk is struggling to keep up with the requests the PC is making of it.

That could be a symptom that it’s just not quick enough, but it could be a forebear of the disk being faulty – maybe the reason it’s taking ages is because it’s physically about to fail. Best get it checked out.

And don’t forget ReadyBoost

After sending this original tip above within Microsoft, a reader (Rob Orwin) responded to remind me about ReadyBoost – so I added the following in a subsequent tip. In Rob’s own words.

clip_image001[1]Whenever my computer is being a bit sluggish, I stuff two memory sticks, which I always carry around in my laptop bag, in the USB ports and as if by magic everything starts running as if it’s on steroids. It’s instantaneous as you only need to dedicate a device to ReadyBoost once, and then every time you put it in the USB drive it gets automatically used as pseudo-RAM. Another option is to get a ReadyBoost compatible SD card and stick it in the laptop’s SD card slot – which pretty much no one ever uses. [and 4Gb SD cards can be picked up for a few £s]

Yes, it’s not quite as fast as actually adding RAM but it’s a lot easier and a great deal faster than having to use the HDD for virtual memory. I learnt this from a friend who’s a graphic designer. She uses ReadyBoost whenever she needs to do huge batch operations in PhotoShop. The ReadyBoost feature was apparently the main reason why she got her company to buy her a PC instead of a Mac. When a Mac is out of RAM, it’s out of RAM.

I even use ReadyBoost at home to run Windows 7 on a laptop that is 12 years old and has 256Mb RAM.

Tip o’ the Week #51 – Five Golden Rules for OCS & Lync


A tip this week concerning best practices for using Enterprise Voice in OCS or Lync for making and receiving voice calls…

Participating in OCS/Lync Calls:

  • Use a wired* connection when you are on OCS/Lync calls. (Performance over WIFI will not be as good)
  • Ensure you use an approved OCS/Lync headset (available from the service desk in TVP and CP).

Hosting a OCS/Lync Meeting:

There is also some best practice for hosting a OCS/Lync meeting – the 5 golden rules. In summary:

If you are hosting the meeting, always set-up 5-10 minutes in advance, to upload presentation(s) and to complete the following steps..

  1. Connect network cable to presenter PC first, then start the meeting
  2. Switch off wireless networking on presenter PC.
  3. Always run “Audio Video“ wizard to make sure that your speakers, micro and webcam work correctly after all audio/video devices are connected.
  4. Avoid noise in the meeting room when microphones are not on mute**
    • typing (e.g. email or instant messaging)
    • rustling papers
    • tapping solid objects
    • be aware of fans (e.g. projector) which are close to PC
    • side talk
    • breathing into your own microphone …
  1. Do not start multiple Live Meetings in the same room – use projector to save bandwidth!

             **Also remember to Mute yourself if you are not speaking

*the reason for using a wired connection is partly due to a behaviour that Windows Vista and Windows 7 introduced – where a PC has both a wired and wireless connection, the PC assumes you are using a laptop and needs to be prepared to be disconnected, so it uses the wireless in preference to wired network.

clip_image006You you can set your PC to always favour the wired network, if one is available…

  • Go to Control Panel / Network and Internet / Network Sharing Center / Change Adapter Settings (or just go WindowsKey-R and run ncpa.cpl)
  • Press ALT if you don’t see a menu, then go into Advanced and select Advanced settings (stay with me)
  • Change the binding order so that Local Area is higher than Wireless…

The downside of doing this is that if you do unplug your laptop from the wired network, it might disconnect you from OCS/Lync and any file copying etc might get dropped.

If you want to check what your network is doing, and in particular, which connection is being used, check the Network tab in Task Manager (start it quickly by pressing CTRL-SHIFT-ESC).

Tip o’ the Week #40 – monitoring your PC’s innards

clip_image002Everyone can see their PC slow down inexplicably, but getting to the bottom of why can be tricky. It could be an occasional task that’s running (like an update being applied to Anti-Virus software), or perhaps something more sinister is going on – a badly constructed web page causing IE to use up system resources, even a virus doing its dirty work. Or maybe it’s just Outlook deciding that it needs to do some lengthy maintenance to large data files.

There are plenty of tools built into Windows 7 that will help tell you what is happening – such as the “CPU Meter” desktop Gadget (right-click on desktop, choose Gadgets, and drag it onto the desktop to see a realtime view of how your computer’s processor – CPU-  is performing, and how much memory is currently in use).

If you want to get deeper under the hood, there’s always Performance Monitor or its new friend, Resource Monitor (just go to start menu, type “Resource” and you’ll find it).

A quick and relatively simple way of checking what’s hogging your PC’s performance, is the Task clip_image003Manager tool – you can start it by pressing CTRL-ALT-DEL and choosing Start Task Manager from the list, or right-click on the taskbar and see the same option, or (the quickest and easiest way), simply press CTRL+SHIFT+ESC.

Task Manager gives you the ability to see which applications or processes are using the main resources on the machine, and if necessary, gives you the ability to close them down. It’s possible to add other columns to the list, so you could see how much disk I/O each process is generating (so if your laptop’s hard disk is thrashing the whole time, you might see which app is causing it). Resource Monitor adds another layer of detail, and can be started from within Task Manager’s “Performance” tab.

The Über-Monitor
If you’re feeling like all these namby-pamby built-in monitoring tools are too high level, you need ProcessExplorer. This tool came from a company (called Winternals) which Microsoft bought a few years ago, ostensibly to bring on board some nice free tools (and some that now sit in MDOP) and to get the brain of its chief technologist, one Mark Russinovich, who is now a “Technical Fellow” in Microsoft. A Jolly Technical Fellow, no less.

“Technical Fellow” is the highest technical level in Microsoft, equivalent to Corporate VP, and is bestowed on a few legendary folk.  The guy who invented Vax/VMS and designed Windows NT? Check. The guys who developed (with a few friends) the graphical UI, distributed computing, ethernet, the laser printer and the mouse? Take a bow, Butler, Chuck.

clip_image005If you ever get to see Mark give a talk at TechEd, you’ll realise just how deep his knowledge goes. Here are recordings of some of his talks – there’s also a TechEd introduction to some of the tools, here.

Process Explorer lets you see not only what services/processes are hogging the machine, but what is causing them to do it – as with any such tools, you could do a great deal of harm by killing off the wrong thing… but if you fire it up and simply have a look, it’s quite interesting…

For the true die-hards, it’s possible (through the Options menu) to “Replace Task Manager” so that ProcExp is fired up by the same means (CTRL-SHIFT-ESC etc) that Task Manager was.

This could be the new measure of the true geek – only Process Explorer users would qualify.

Tip o’ the Week #39 – Multi-monitor with Win7

clip_image002If you sit at a shared desk with a monitor on it, but are content to just use your laptop screen, then this tip is for you. Also, if you use your laptop and display the same image on both its internal panel and an attached external screen, listen up.

Multi-mon in Windows 7 – the ability to extend your desktop to cover multiple screens – is quite possibly its killer feature. Seriously. I bought a 2nd widescreen monitor for my home PC, just because it’s so useful.

Using multiple monitors couldn’t be simpler – plug in to your laptop (or plug a 2nd monitor into your desktop if you have one – many desktop PCs now have a VGA and a DVI connector, so you could drive one of each), and press WindowsKey-P to bring up the display selector, if necessary (since windows 7 does a good job of remembering your previous settings, you should only have to do this once).

(If you’re running a laptop with Windows 7, you do not need to do Fn-F7 or whatever to send the display to a projector. Same thing goes with managing an external display – Win-P does most of what you’ll need).

Shortcut keys are indispensible when managing multiple monitors – here are a few:

  • WndKey+SHIFT+ Left / Right arrow – switches the current window between the screens*
  • WndKey+Left / Right arrow – docks the current window to the left of the screen it’s on
    • (flick a window to the 2nd display with Wnd+Shift+Left then press Wnd+Left to dock)
  • WndKey+Home – minimises / maximises all windows other than the active one

clip_image004*actually, it’s possible to have an array of screens – these key combinations merely move the window one along the array.
Here’s someone taking things to extreme, I feel…

clip_image005Now, sometimes you won’t have monitors side-by-side – but that’s OK. Right-click on your desktop and choose Screen Resolution and you can move things around a bit…

In the example above, the 2nd display is offset to the top left and has a different resolution (1440×900 vs 1400×1050) and aspect ratio (16:9 widescreen vs 4:3 standard) to the main laptop screen. This happens to be my 2nd monitor when working at home. You can drag & drop the position of the 2nd monitor in relation to the primary one, and it gets saved for future – so your mouse moves appropriately between the two, or you can drag windows between (and even span) the two screens.

In the office, I use a 4:3 monitor (pictured below). The screen size/resolution can make for some interesting effects in comparison with the laptop panel, but here I have it set to stack the two screens vertically. Really handy when working on a couple of different things at once, or even when showing something to another user – far easier for them to see it on the big screen than squint at the laptop.


Most obscure tip of the week – WndKey+SHIFT+Up arrow –stretches a window’s height to span both monitors if they’re stacked vertically as shown above. Nope, I can’t think of too many uses for it either.

Tip o’ the Week #31 – the lost art of the .EXE name

As has been mentioned in a couple of earlier ToW’s, it’s often quicker to use the keyboard to do things, than to take your hands off the keyboard and fish about for a mouse or other means of pointer manipulation. In the vast majority of cases, for example, whenever there’s a box that lets you type some text and an “OK” button to accept it, pressing ENTER will have the same effect as finding your pointer and clicking on the button, and will save you precious seconds in so doing.

An easy way of shaving more seconds from the daily grind is to remember the old names of executable files, rather than relying on finding an icon in the Start menu and clicking on it. Remember the days of DOS-style “8.3” filenames, where programs would have a .EXE (or even a .COM) extension? If you entered the bit preceding the “.” in a command prompt, then DOS or Windows clip_image001would just run the program (without needing to add the .EXE bit).

Well, some things never change. Windows preserves the same ability to run an executable by entering its name, and in many cases, the “path” to where that executable lives (in the file system) will be included in the locations that Windows will look for appropriate files.

Maybe this is easier to “do” than to explain – try pressing WndKey-R, which will bring up the “Run” prompt that used to be on the Start menu but is no longer. At this point, you can ENTER the names of any of your favourite programs…

  • CALC
  • COMMUNICATOR (note that all of the above have their legacy in pre-Win95 days of 8.3 file names, so their main executable file name was <=8 chars in length… well, Office Communicator being a more modern app has no such history – some internal Windows commands still preserve the 8.3 format even though there’s been no need to do so for 15 years)
  • OUTLOOK (you can sometimes add command-line switches to alter the behaviour of the app you’re looking to run – Outlook has a myriad, normally used for troubleshooting purposes)

All of the above are mainstream productivity apps, but there are hunders of Windows system applications that could be occasionally useful, too:

  • CMD

clip_image002In fact, you can launch all of these by just pressing the WindowsKey to bring up the start menu, and type in the name of the program and hit enter… but you don’t get the history of previous commands entered, which can be handy (eg to open a Remote Desktop session to another machine, you could enter “MSTSC /V <machinename>” and all of the recent entries will be recalled in the Most Recently Used list, and can be selected with a deft down-arrow or two, followed by ENTER.

XP Mode in Windows 7 saved me money

I’ve been running Windows 7 at home for a while now, and have been very pleased with it – on a decent spec machine (Quad core, 4Gb RAM, lots of SATA-II disk etc), it absolutely flies. As did Vista before it, if truth be told.

When I got this machine, I had it set up to dual boot between Windows Vista x64 and XP Media Center, partly because I had some software that didn’t like Vista. imageOne of the problem software/hardware combos was an oldish Canon 5000F scanner that gets used once every few months or so, but didn’t have 64-bit drivers available. It wasn’t enough hassle to make me want to go & buy a new scanner.

On moving to Windows 7, I’ve just used the Virtual Windows XP, or “XP Mode” (which has now RTMed – available soon), function, which lets me run an XP virtual machine that has access to local resources like hard disks etc.

imageAfter firing up the Virtual XP instance, the scanner is listed under USB devices – the software was easy to install since the hard disks of the host machine are visible to the VM, and it was a snap to configure the Canon scanner software to save its output back into the Documents library of the host.

So all in all, a bit more trouble than if it just worked natively – but the XP Mode offers a solution to the gnarly problem of old hardware that isn’t being supported any more by its manufacturer. It certainly saved me the £50 or whatever it would take to buy a new scanner!

Windows 7 Release Candidate available now

I’ve now upgraded 4 different PCs to Win7 Release Candidate (build 7100) and each one has gone swimmingly – you too can share in the fun by downloading the release candidate for yourself.

The Windows development team are looking to test the upgrade process from Vista to Windows 7, so are asking customers who upgraded from Vista to Windows 7 beta, to regress first to Vista then upgrade to RC from there. Out of the box, the RC won’t do an in-place upgrade from previous versions of Windows 7, before build 7077. [The beta was 7000].

Since I did a clean install of the beta on a few machines, I’ve used the cheeky workaround here to allow the setup to be tricked into allowing it to go ahead. The only problem I’ve had – and this happened on going between interim builds of W7 too – is that the Lenovo thinkpad keyboard & tablet buttons driver doesn’t work until I go into Device Manager and force a driver update… so initial login needs to be from a Remote Desktop connection or via a plugged-in USB keyboard.

Outlook Thread Compressor download now available

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about Thread Compressor on here – it’s an add-in to Outlook which removes unnecessary emails, on the assumption that most people reply to mail and leave the original intact, so you could keep the last mail in each branch of a thread, and remove all the others.


Way back when I was still developing TC, I tried to get it included on the Office Downloads section of Microsoft.com, but our legal department was (with some justification) very nervous about us offering a download which would go through the end user’s mailbox like a dose of salts, deleting stuff. So it stayed (more or less) an internal tool: I even started developing a “version 5” with a much groovier UI and some extra features.

Included in the v5 beta (which is a real pain to install nowadays – the previous v4.2.030 version has nearly the same feature set and is a lot more self contained), was a piece of logic which captured stats on TC usage and emailed them back to me.

Since many people at MS are still running that beta (it’s a long story, but the source code went south so it’ll never get out of “beta” state), I still get maybe 20-30 statistics mails a day…

Since August 2003 when the first statistics email arrived – from me, kind-of naturally – until 24th April 2007 (when I last did an analysis of the stats), TC v5 beta had scanned over 400m email messsages and had compressed over 30m, worth nearly half a terabyte of email data.

To the reader, the spoils

Well, I finally decided – in an “ask forgiveness rather than permission” move – to make the last complete and stable version available for download.


It’s not particularly elegant looking by modern standards (given that most of it was written 7 years ago in VB6) but it does work, even on Windows 7 (x86 and x64) and Office 2007. Basically, anything post-Office 2000/Windows 2000 should be OK.

A reader called Mark Ruggles emailed me the other day and said:

“It is fantastic and it works like a champ in Outlook 2007. I turned it loose on my Inbox and my archive and I deleted 103Mb of redundant data. I sent it out to some of my colleagues and my manager used it cutting his archives down by 2Gb.

This is the coolest utility I’ve found in a long time.”

So, thanks to Mark’s comment, I’ve now registered www.threadcompressor.co.uk and posted install instructions and a download file up there.