A couple of years ago, I helped out with the documentation for the Microsoft Shared Computer Toolkit. On June 22, 2007, Microsoft released the newest incarnation of the product, now named Windows SteadyState. For those who haven’t seen or heard of it, SteadyState is a utility that makes it easier to manage public computers, such as those found in libraries, classrooms, and Internet cafes – or even the computer you keep in your guest room that you get sick of having to troubleshoot every time your nephew visits.
One of the challenges of managing public computers is that all manner of malware, other programs, and system changes can be introduced by users. SteadyState works by offering several vital functions in an easy-to-manage interface:
- Windows Disk Protection. This feature basically creates a snapshot of the hard drive at a certain point in time (like when you finally get it configured just the way you want it). Whenever the computer restarts, Windows restores the computer to this exact state. So whenever a user is done with the computer, you can just restart the computer and it returns to the same state as before the user logged on.
- User Restrictions and Settings. This feature allows you to restrict access to programs and settings, and also to lock a user account to prevent changes.
- User Account Manager. This feature lets you create and delete user accounts, and also to export user accounts for use on other shared computers – perfect for creating identical user accounts on a group of shared computers.
- Computer Restrictions. This feature lets you restrict access to computer settings.
Right now, Windows SteadyState is only available for Windows XP and does require that you validate the copy of Windows you’re running.
With the release of Office Small Business Accounting 2007 around the corner, Microsoft has gone ahead and made Office Accounting Express 2007 a free download – no strings attached. While not as feature-rich as the Professional version, the Express version is an ideal starter for small businesses looking to integrate basic accounting, invoicing, expense-tracking, and even payroll (through the ADP integrated payroll service). It’s also great for people just looking to make the move from the ubiquitous, but beginning-to-show-its-age, QuickBooks.
Four me, there are four big features that the Professional version will offer that the Express version does not:
- Quotes – So you can create a quote for a job and then later convert it to an actual invoice.
- Multiple price levels – So you can charge different customers different prices for the same job.
- Job Costing – So you can track the material and labor cost for each job and see the actual profit you make on every job.
- 1099 Reports – So I can pay my contractors more easily.
If you don’t need these features, then you have a free, powerful, easy-to-use accounting package to play with.
In the next few weeks, I’m planning to move my business accounting to Office Small Business Accounting Professional 2007, but I’ll give the Express version a whirl first and post a full review. In the meantime, the Express site has a Flash demo you can check out or you can just grab a copy for yourself.
For you creative gaming types with some C# skills, Microsoft has just released XNA Game Studio Express 1.0 and the XNA Framework. The development environment is geared toward letting students and hobbyists create games for Windows and the Xbox 360 (though if you want to run your games on the 360, you have to join the XNA Creators Club, which runs about $49 for four months or $99 per year and is available through the Xbox Live Marketplace).
XNA Game Studio Express 1.0 requires Windows XP (no official Vista support yet, though their FAQ says it will install on Vista).
Independent game developers rejoice!
Now somebody get to work and make me an Xbox Live version of Mail Order Monsters.
This is an article I wrote for the Windows XP Expert Zone in September, 2006, but I forgot to post about it when the article appeared. Windows Defender offers top-notch spyware protection for your Windows computer.
Microsoft has released a free online magazine (in PDF format) named Safety and Security Online that’s all about protecting home computers and your family. It’s a pretty good read and has good step-by-step guidance for people who are not IT pros, but who want to improve security and family safety in their homes. You will need to validate your computer using Windows Genuine Advantage (in either IE or Firefox) in order to download, but it takes only a few seconds.
The Quick Launch toolbar is on the Windows Taskbar just to the right of the Start menu. It contains shortcuts. (If you don’t see one on your Taskbar, right-click any open space on the Taskbar, point to Toolbars, and then click Quick Launch.) You can change the location of a shortcut icon on the toolbar by dragging it.
Most people order the icons according to the programs they use most frequently. Instead, try alternating icons by applications that take a long time to load and those that take a short time to load. For example, place your icon for Notepad between the icons for, say, Word and Photoshop. If you’re in a hurry and accidentally click the icon next to the one you meant to click, you won’t have to wait for a program that takes a long time to load.
Sometimes, navigating the Start menu for the shortcut to a particular program or folder takes too long. Creating a shortcut toolbar on the Windows XP taskbar is simple. The first step is to create a folder and fill it with shortcuts. You could create a folder named Shortcuts, Games, or whatever you need quick access to. Store the folder wherever you like. I keep mine in the My Documents folder. After you create the folder and some shortcuts inside, use these steps to add the toolbar:
- Right-click any open space on the Windows Taskbar.
- On the shortcut menu, point to Toolbars, and then click New Toolbar.
- In the New Toolbar dialog box, locate your shortcut folder, select it, and then click OK.
That’s it. The new toolbar appears and looks something like this:
To remove the toolbar, right-click the Taskbar, point to Toolbars on the shortcut menu, and click the shortcut toolbar to disable it. When you disable the Toolbar, you will have to recreate it if you want it to appear again.
Honestly, error reporting is kind of a drag. After a program or system crash, the last thing you want is to sit through is Windows having to grind out an error report. To disable Error Reporting:
- Click Start, then click Control Panel.
- In Control Panel, if the window is not already in Classic View, click the Switch to Classic View link on the left.
- Double-click Administrative Tools.
- In the Administrative Tools folder, double-click Services.
- In the Services window, scroll until you find the Error Reporting Service entry and double-click it to open its properties.
- In the properties dialog that opens, in the Startup Type box, select Disabled. Also click Stop to go ahead and stop the service.
- Click OK and then close the Administrative Tools folder.
Error Reporting will no longer bother you.
If you didn’t build your computer yourself and the name of your video card isn’t printed on a nice little sticker on the case, it’s not always easy to find out what you’ve got inside without cracking the case open. Fortunately, there is a way:
- Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, and then click System Information.
- In the System Information window, in the list on the left side, open the Components category, and then click Display.
- In the right side of the window, the Name and Adapter Description labels describe your video card model.
By default, Windows XP displays the Language Toolbar on the right side of the Taskbar in a new Windows installation. For most people, it just gets in the way and takes up Taskbar room that could be put to better use. Hereâ€™s how to turn it off:
- Click Start and then click Control Panel.
- In the Control Panel window, if you havenâ€™t done it already, click Switch to Classic View in the Tasks pane.
- Double-click Regional and Language Options.
- In the Regional and Language Options dialog box, switch to the Languages tab, and then click Details.
- In the Text Services and Input Languages dialog box, click Language Bar.
- Clear the Show the Language bar on the desktop check box.
- Click OK until the dialog boxes are gone and then close the Control Panel window.