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Paul's 2011 Tech Tips

In addition to my software picks and Audible book recommendations, I routinely provide a tech tip on the Windows Weekly podcast as well. Here's a complete list of the tech tips I provided in 2011.

Note: As with previous retrospectives, the oldest tips are at the top. And in cases where a tip has been obsoleted by more recent changes, I've provided a note with alternatives.

Make a portable Xbox LIVE profile. This makes it much easier to use different Xbox 360 consoles. But with some games, there's a small gotcha. [Note: Thanks to the Fall 2011 Dashboard Update, this is no longer necessary as you can very easily use your profile on multiple consoles. Please read Xbox 360 Fall 2011 Dashboard Update, Part 3: Beacons, Cloud Storage, Windows Phone Integration for more information.]

Backup your data as a New Year Resolution. There are two backup locations now, and you should be using both: Local backup (in-home) and cloud-backup. This is the year. Don't be a statistic. [Note: I adopted Windows Home Server 2011 for local backup and CrashPlan for cloud back in 2011.]

Buy an MP3 album on Amazon MP3 and get 20 GB of cloud storage for free. Normally you get 5 GB of storage for free. Buy even a $5 album and you get 20 GB instead! [Note: This offer is no longer available. But Amazon has a new offer: Get unlimited space for music when you purchase a 20 GB Cloud Drive Storage plan for $20 per year.

Cloud backup. You can't just backup to a USB hard drive. Cloud-based backup is the new offsite backup. I'm investigating KeepVault for WHS 2011. But you have a lot more choices for individual PCs. [Note: As noted above, I adopted CrashPlan in 2011.]

Get Microsoft Safety Scanner, Microsoft's free security scanner utility. Thanks to Leon Zandman for the tip.

Get up to speed on Office 2007/2010 ribbon. Microsoft Office Labs' Search Commands provides a new tab for Office 2007/2010 apps that helps you find the commands you used to use in the old interface. Thanks to Mark Evans for the tip And there's a new version of Ribbon Hero, a fun way to discover features and functionality within Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote.

Use Windows Live Photo Gallery to fix date/time of photos. Windows Live Photo Gallery lets you sort photos by date taken, group by camera, and adjust time relatively.  It's under the Edit tab select all the photos from one camera click adjust time and you can bump it however you need too. Thanks to Matt Battaglia for the tip.

Students can buy a new PC ($699 and up) and get a free Xbox 360. Nothing like getting in the Back to School spirit in May. [Note: This deal has obviously expired, though a version was repeated in the Fall for the Back to School Season. Microsoft still offers a number of deals for students, though. Find out more at the Microsoft Store.]

Windows Home Server 2011 OEM version on the cheap. WHS 2011 is now available on and for about $120. [Note: This deal has gotten significantly better: WHS 2011 is $45 on Amazon today and $53 at]

Style your PC like Windows 8. Rainmeter plus the Windows 8 theme. It's pretty straightforward, but more info here. Thanks to Byron Adams for the tip.

Slipstream SP1 into Office 2010. The ever-popular slipstream guide returns.

Windows users should drop Dropbox and use Windows Live Mesh with rare exceptions. Live Mesh is superior in some important ways and better integrated with Windows.

Try Windows Intune 2. It's free through the end of the year, works on up to ten PCs, and is a surprisingly awesome PC management solution. [Note: Windows Intune 2 is now publicly available and, of course, 2011 is over. Currently, you can get a 30-day trial version of Intune 2.]

Enable SSL in Hotmail for better security. It's just a single checkbox.

Understanding the difference between Microsoft's email services and Microsoft's email applications. It's all about consolidation, and a single view into multiple inboxes. (Universal unread mail, basically.) Sometimes a native email client does make sense. [Note: I eventually turned this into a series of articles, including Thinking About Email Consolidation StrategiesEmail Consolidation: How To Collect Email From Other AccountsEmail Consolidation: How To Forward Email To Other Accounts, and Email Consolidation: How To Consolidate Email Accounts In Windows 7 And Windows Phone 7.5.]

Roku 2 for the living room. It's the Apple TV without any of the Apple lock-in. Brilliant. 

Get Microsoft Press books for free in PDF, MOBI, and EPUB formats. Includes Charles Petzold’s Programming Windows Phone 7, Moving to Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 by Patrice Pelland, Pascal Paré, and Ken Haines, Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 by Ross Mistry and Stacia Misner, Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2 by Charlie Russel and Craig Zacker, and Katherine Murray’s Own Your Future, Update Your Skills with Resources and Career Ideas from Microsoft. Plus: More free eBooks from Microsoft Press, this time a 337 page whopper about Office 365. PDF only right now but MOBI and ePUB are coming soon.

Manage how Windows Live/Bing uses your personal information. The completely hidden and non-discoverable Microsoft Personal Data Dashboard provides a lot of information about you, your Bing search data, your interests (!!!  Me: Computer sciences and programming, laptops and handheld computers, software, and sports and outdoors), and more (including links to account management for Windows Live, MSN, profile, Xbox, and Zune. Best bit: You can opt out of information collection in "My Choices": Click Allowed button to change to Not Allowed. Thanks to Russell Eby for the tip.

Great new themes for Windows 7. I finally convince my photographer friend Kerry to release some of her photos as Windows 7 wallpapers/themes.

Reclaim Disk Space with Disk Cleanup. Disk Cleanup is a handy tool in Windows 7 that can free up space on your disk(s) if you're running low, which is suddenly a need again now in this age of SSDs. But it's especially useful for the post-SP1 upgrade, when Microsoft dumps GBs of unneeded files on the disk in case you need to restore to pre-SP1 (which almost never happens). The SP1 upgrade files are under the item called "System Files". To find Disk Cleanup, use Start Menu Search and type "disk clean" (no quotes). It will ask you to select a disk (generally will be C: but try it on other drives too, if present). Thanks to David Sherman for the tip.

Learn to Use Windows 8 with a mouse and keyboard. I've been publishing a series of Tips articles for using Windows 8 on the PCs we already have. Surprise! It works great, especially if you know the secrets to mouse and keyboard usage. [Note: These articles include Windows 8 Tip: Windows Key Shortcuts and Windows 8 Tip: Using a Mouse.]

New features for Office Web Apps on Windows Live SkyDrive. Microsoft this week added a few new features to the Office Web Apps on SkyDrive. You can now print directly from the Excel Web App; display ink content in the OneNote Web App; merge and auto-fit cells in the Excel Web App; and use right click menus in the Excel Web App. 

Local Scout is Perhaps the Single Best New Feature in Windows Phone 7.5. With all this talk about a talkative mobile phone feature no one will really use, let's examine one way in which Windows Phone once again works the way you do, and in an integrated fashion.

How to take screenshots on Windows Phone 7.5. Microsoft has done everything it can to prevent screenshots in Windows Phone 7.5. But there is a way. And if you act quickly, it will only cost 99 cents. 

Use Disconnect Me to stop third parties and search engines from tracking the webpages you go to and searches you do. Requires Chrome, Firefox, or Safari.

Backup your music collection to the cloud. Microsoft is late to the game, but you can and should backup your entire music collection to the cloud now. And you can do it for free. Google Music provides free cloud-based storage of up to 20,000 songs. Amazon Cloud Player (part of Amazon Cloud Drive) provides 5 GB of storage for free and has different tiers of storage you can pay for (20 GB is $20 per year, for example.) Anything you buy from Amazon isn't counted towards your storage total. And both services backup not just your collection but also your playlists.

Experience Windows Phone on iPhone or Android. And then cry because you have to go back to your old phone. A new Windows Phone emulator gives you a chance to walk on the wild side.

Make Windows Live Messenger suck a little less. Rafael explains how to remove the atrocious Messenger sharing window using the latest version of A-Patch, the longtime Messenger customizer.

Use the Xbox 360 as a TV replacement. With a second round of TV and entertainment services hitting the Xbox 360 this week, Microsoft's console is finally realizing its digital media ambitions. [Note: I later reviewed these services in Xbox 360 Fall 2011 Dashboard Update, Part 4: New TV and Entertainment Services.]

Happy New Year!
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