Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Defragmenting Your Hard Drive


Defragment Your Hard Drive for Faster Performance

Last week we talked about how you can change your filing system to free up storage space and quickly find files on your hard drive. This week we'll talk about another vital part of hard drive health: defragmenting.

Here's Geek Girls' explanation of why defragmenting is so important:

When you first install your operating system and programs on your hard disk, they are written to the disk, for the most part, in one contiguous block without any gaps. The exceptions are certain system files that must be stored in specific locations. Over time, as you create and then delete documents or uninstall programs, once-filled locations are left empty and you end up with files dotted all over the disk.

Now, when Windows is writing a file to the disk, it looks for a suitable piece of free space in which to store it. What happens, then, when you copy a 40M database or audio file to the disk and the biggest slice of free space is only 30M? Or say you modify an existing file, appending a whole bunch of data so the file now takes up more space on the disk. To accommodate the files, Windows writes the first part of the file in one section of the disk and then scouts around for other places to store the rest of the file. The end result is that a single file may be stored in several chunks scattered about the disk.

And the harder your computer has to look for all those chunks, the slower it can take for documents or programs to load. The defrag process tidies up your disk to put all those data blocks in a row again, resulting in faster performance and a happier computer.

To run a defrag, just go to the Start menu, select Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and finally Disk Defragmenter. It can take a while for the process to run, particularly if you've got a lot of data on your hard drive. For this reason, you might want to schedule it to run during off hours.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

4 Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Hard Drive

Banish Digital Clutter in 4 Simple Steps

Even people with tidy desks and pin-neat offices sometimes find themselves with a whole lot of clutter – on their hard drives. But just because storage is cheap these days doesn’t mean you need to have a lot of spare bits and bytes hanging around. Keeping extra files on your hard drive can make it difficult to get to the information you want, leading to lost or duplicated files and a lot of wasted time. Here are a few simple ways you can keep your files in order.


1. Delete, delete, delete.


You know the old adage about clothes: If you haven’t worn something in a year, throw it out. The same might apply to your computer files. If you haven’t opened something in a year, you’re probably safe throwing it out. At the very least, you can take everything you’re not one hundred percent sure you’re comfortable deleting and stick it all in a folder called “Archive.”


2. Use shortcuts instead of making duplicate files.


If you’re working on several projects that all work off the same document, don’t keep a copy of the document in each project folder. Instead, decide which folder you’ll keep the original in and create shortcuts to that original in every other folder. That way you don’t have to worry about versioning problems.


3. Use descriptive file names.


This sounds simple, but it’s shocking how many people name important documents things like “Report.doc”. Put enough identifying detail in the file name that you’ll be able to discern the contents at a glance.


4. Don’t save what you don’t need.


If a coworker sends you a file for review, chances are you download it, make some notations, re-save, and send it back. Once you’ve sent it, there’s no reason to keep that file hanging around. Create a folder for these sorts of one-off files and then empty it at the end of every week by either deleting the file or, if it’s important, moving it to the appropriate directory.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Filing Taxes Securely

Keep Your Identity Safe While Filing Taxes Online

It’s that wonderful time of the year again when everybody whips out their green eyeshades and calculators and figures out how much they owe the IRS — or how much the IRS owes them. The large (and growing) number of people filing their taxes online presents a very attractive target to online identity thieves. Here's how to make sure you don't get suckered into giving up your personal information.

1. Don't click on emails promising refunds or threatening audits.

In a popular email scam, crooks send out spam with subject lines like “COLLECT YOUR REFUND NOW.” Sometimes the emails even come from legitimate-looking addresses, and have logos or signature files that make them appear to come from a real government entity. The victim is asked to click through to an application form that the scammer then uses to harvest personal information.

A newer twist on the old refund scam is the audit scam, where a taxpayer gets a personalized email preying on their fears of an audit. Because the email is personalized, the recipient is more likely to think it’s legitimate. It isn’t. The IRS states very clearly that it does not send out unsolicited email communications to private citizens.

2. Be smart about where and when you file.

Do not file your taxes from an Internet cafĂ©. Even if you’re on your own computer, many publicly available wireless networks are vulnerable to intrusion because they aren’t encrypted. Additionally, crooks have been known to set up public wireless networks with names that sound like legitimate hosts in order lure people into using them. Be safe and file your taxes from a secure, encrypted connection.

3. Protect the data on your hard drive.

And last, chances are you might have some of your important tax information stored on your computer in Quicken files, Excel spreadsheets, or other formats. Make sure your firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware programs are all up to date to prevent intrusions that could result in this information being accessed and stolen.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Enhancing Productivity with Dual Monitors

Dual Monitors Are Twice As Nice: Expand Your Screen Real Estate and Get More Done Faster

There’s an easy way to eliminate double entries, significantly decrease errors in filling out forms and paperwork, and get a lot more work done: just add a second monitor to your desktop.


Studies have shown that no matter how you measure productivity, you’ll get a boost by adding a second monitor to your desktop. Why? Because you’ll spend a lot less time flipping between documents and applications and more time actually working. Consider the fact that the average monitor displays about the same real estate as an 8 ½ x 11” piece of paper. Multiple monitors allow you to look at more than one piece of paper at a time – a bit like what your physical desktop allows you to do in the real world already.


Those same studies show that users adapt very quickly to multiple monitors. And newer operating systems are well equipped to adapt to multiple monitor hookups. According to New York Times writer Ivan Berger,


Recent Windows and Mac computers (and some Linux systems) can operate with multiple monitors; with my computer's Windows XP operating system, it took only a few keystrokes and mouse movements to set things up. Once I saw how it improved my productivity, I was an instant convert.


… With a single monitor, I could jump between applications with a mouse click or a keyboard command (Alt-Tab, in Windows), but not nearly as fast — and small delays add up when you repeat them dozens or even hundreds of times a day. With my dual displays, I simply sweep my mouse from one screen to the other. (“The Virtues of a Second Screen”)


Particularly for people in professions like insurance, accounting, or other detail-oriented industries, dual monitors can increase productivity and decrease the likelihood of error because you’re more likely to immediately spot discrepancies between documents.


With the price of flat-screen monitors falling every day, now might be the time to make a small investment that could reap huge productivity dividends. If you’re wondering if a multi-monitor setup is right for you, call CMIT Solutions. We’ll let you know what hardware upgrades you’ll need (such as extra graphics cards) and help you set up and configure your new, improved workspace!


Monday, March 3, 2008

Quick Reformatting in Microsoft Word 2007

Format Painter Lets You Reformat Paragraphs in a Single Click

Many people spend the bulk of their days working in two Microsoft programs: Word and Excel.  And if you've ever done a lot of cutting and pasting in and between these programs, you know how quickly you can end up with a very muddled-looking document.  If you're pasting from email, Web pages, and a variety of Word documents, for example, you can easily end up with something that looks like this:

To bring all these formats in line, you can do several things. First, you can select the whole passage, then alter the font, font style, and font size.  Or, with a nifty feature in Word 2007, you can simply use Format Painter.

This feature will automatically copy the font and font style of a selection and replicate it to your next selection.  It doesn't alter paragraph characteristics, however.

To use Format Painter, first highlight the selection whose format you want to copy:

Then go click the Format Painter button under the Home tab.  As you can see, double-clicking it will apply the same formatting to multiple places in the document.

Then simply highlight the area whose formatting you want to change.  You'll see the paintbrush icon, indicating it's in Format Painter mode.  When you take your finger off the mouse, voila - everything will be formatted correctly.

The same principle applies to Excel 2007 charts - no more telling each individual cell that it's a number, data, or currency.  Try it yourself and see!