Thursday, December 25, 2008

Converting any media format to any other

The MediaCoder for Windows (Vista, XP, 2000, 2003, Linux w/ Wine) is a standalone, open source (MPL 1.1), and free application that convert between various video and/or audio formats, e.g. MOV (Quicktime), AVI, XviD, MPEG, H.264, Flash, WMV, RealVideo, DVD, and many more formats including most audio formats.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Turn off auto-restart in Windows (XP Pro and Vista Business only)

To avoid having Windows restart itself after automatic updates, do:

1. In the Start Menu click 'Run...', type 'gpedit.msc' and ENTER to open the 'Group Policy Editor'.
2. Go to 'Local Computer Policy' -> 'Computer Configuration' -> 'Administrative Templates' -> 'Windows Components' -> 'Windows Update'.
3. Double click on Entry to open up a list of settings.
4. Double click on Item 'No auto-restart logged on users for scheduled automatic updates' to open up a property dialog and change the setting to 'Enabled' (sic!).

Note, this only works with Windows XP Pro or Windows Vista Business or higher. It will not work with home editions. In that case, see the below source for more details.

Source: Comments at

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Got a DVD/CD *.iso image file but no drive?

Have you got an *.iso image file with media/software that you wish to access without having to burn it to a DVD/CD? This entry explains how to do it on Windows XP/Vista.

ISO images are binary files that contains an exact copy of a DVD or a CD. Typically it is burned to a DVD/CD, which is then put in the DVD/CD drive. However, if you like me got a notebook that does neither have a CD/DVD reader nor a burner, you probably find this a bit annoying, especially as it should be possible to live without the now 25-year old CompactDisc (CD) technology (the DVD technology is ~10 years old). The solution is to mount the ISO file as a virtual drive such that it can be accessed as if it was real DVD/CD.

This is how I did it on Windows XP Pro English edition:

1. Install MagicDisc:
The easiest way to mount an ISO is to install the MagicISO Virtual CD/DVD-ROM software (MagicDisc; download the first item unless you have a Windows 64-bit operating system which most people don't). The MagicDisc is freeware (and free from adware). The installation is easy and straightforward and without hard-to-understand technical options, and there is no need to reboot after the installation. The program will install itself in the traybar (lower-right corner) and there you will also see a Windows notification bubble reporting "Found new hardware...". The program is also available from the Start menu.

2. Mount the ISO file:
To mount an ISO file, just right-click on the MagicDisc icon in the system traybar to get its menu and select 'Virtual CD/DVD/ROM' -> 'D: No Media' -> 'Mount ...'. This will open a file dialog 'Mount CD/DVD image'. Locate and select the ISO file (and click 'Open'). That's it - the CD/DVD will now show up with its own drive letter (here D:) under 'My Computer'.

If the default drive letter overrides another drive you already have mounted, say an external HDD, then use 'Virtual CD/DVD/ROM' -> 'D: No Media' -> 'Change Drive Letter...' to set it to say 'Z:'.

3. Unmount the ISO file:
When done, right-click and do 'Virtual CD/DVD/ROM' -> 'D: somename.iso' -> 'Unmount ...'. If you have mounted a file on an external USB harddrive, you might also have to exit MagicDisc (right-click), before you can remove the USB drive.

Final comments: I actually started to Daemon Tools Lite, but since the installation was lengthy and required a restart of the computer, and after reading others (Mount ISO Files in Windows Vista, Sept 2008) warnings that they add (optional) adware, I decided to go with MagicDisc (v2.7 build 105), which seems to work very well.

Monday, March 24, 2008

How to delay startup of application when login on to Windows

In the 'All Programs' menu of Windows XP, there is the 'Startup' submenu/folder where you can put (drag'n'drop) programs that you wish to start automatically when you log on to Windows. However, if you have a lot of programs there, it will substantially slow down your computer when you log on forcing you to wait for several minutes before you can do anything useful. To avoid this, you can set the different programs to start after a certain number of seconds so that the least frequently used programs can be started last, say, after 5 minutes.

How to do it

There are a few applications out there that allows you to control the startup process (including the startup of applications not in the Startup folder).

The one I've been using for a few weeks now is freeware 'Startup Delayer' by Australian r2 Studios
(screenshot to the right). It allows you to set the delay for each of the applications started with Windows. It also has a panel displaying the time line of the startup process.

Other "no-cost" solutions I bumped into but haven't tried are: Startup Delayer by, R4U Soft Start.UP Organizer by
R4U Soft, Ss Startup Manager by Ss-Tools, and Startup Optimizer by Cyberlion Solutions.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Portable external USB hard drive with lots of disk space

If you're looking for a good quality external USB hard drive, I can recommend the following combination of drive and enclosure:
  • 160GB 2.5" ATA-6 hard drive: SAMSUNG Spinpoint M Series HM160HC 160GB 5400 RPM 8MB Cache ATA-6 Notebook Hard Drive. ~85 USD + tax (Feb 2008)
  • External enclosure: BYTECC HD-201U2 (SILVER) Aluminum 2.5" USB2.0 mini External Enclosure. Comes with a USB cable that has an extra USB connector in case your computer does not provide enough power. It also comes with a black fake plastic folder that I never use. ~19 USD + tax (Feb 2008)
I use the above for my IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad X60 (Windows XP Professional), but I know it also works perfectly with Thinkpad X41 and a HP notebook I don't remember the details of. For all these notebooks there was enough power to connect to just one USB port; I think that will be the case everywhere, because the drive got quite low power requirements.

Over the last year (Jun & Oct 2007, Jan 2008, Feb 2008), I've bought five pairs of the above products, and never had any problems. You can probably find an enclosure that is a few bucks cheaper, but I find the above reliable so I stick with it. I get my things from, because they are fast, convenient, and get good reviews. I'm very happy with them and had no problems. Note, you need to have a US credit card or US PayPal account to shop there.

Update (Sept 2008): I've just got myself a 320HB drive that works great on my Thinkpad X60 using only one USB port (on some notebooks you might need to connect the drive to two USB ports to get enough power):
  • 320GB 2.5" SATA hard drive: SAMSUNG M6 Series HM320JI 320GB 5400 RPM SATA 1.5Gb/s Notebook Hard Drive OEM. ~99 USD + tax (Sept 2008)
  • External enclosure: BYTECC HD1-SU-BLACK 2.5" USB2.0 External Enclosure. Comes with a USB cable that has an extra USB connector in case your computer does not provide enough power. It also comes with a black fake plastic folder that I never use. ~14 USD + tax (Sept 2008)
Important: If you order something different, make sure you get an ATA enclosure with an ATA drive, or a SATA enclosure (serial-ATA) with a SATA drive. ATA and SATA are two different (physical) interfaces/connectors.

Anyone can assemble these. It is easy. You get the hard drive in a sealed package protecting for static electricity. Before you open that package, just make sure you don't run around in socks on a fury carpet, because that could build up static electricity. Just in case, I always put my hands on my kitchen sink to discharge. The external enclosure comes in two pieces plus USB cable, the main case and the rear panel where you connect the drive and the USB cable. Gently connect the drive to the enclosure panel and make sure it is pressed all the way in. Then insert the drive in the enclosure and use the two screws to fix the rear panel to the main enclosure. If you don't have the tiny Phillips screw driver needed, just use a sharp kitchen knife or similar (I do that). Next, connect the USB cable and hook it up to your computer. The LED on the enclosure should lit up immediately.

Before you can start use the drive you first have to partition the drive and then format it. This is only needed to be done once for the drive. When done once, the drive can be used anywhere. I will explain in detail how to do this on Windows XP, but it should be similar on all systems (and probably also easier).

Partition the drive:
  1. In Windows XP/Vista/7, go to Start -> Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management.  Then Go to Storage -> Disk Management.  (or just run 'diskmgmt.msc')
  2. In the Wizard, initialize the disk. This takes one second and the disk gets state "Online".
  3. In the panel showing available disks, click on the disk that is "Unallocated".
  4. In the part showing the size of the disk with the word "Unallocated", right click to select "New partition...".
  5. In the wizard, click next.
    a) Choose Primary partition (or Extended partition).
    b) Select the size of the partition (if only one partition, select maximum size).
    c) Assign a drive letter, e.g. "H:".
    d) Select "Do not Format this partition" and click "Next".
    e) Click "Finish".
  6. You should now see that "Unallocated" has been replaced by "Healthy".
Format the drive: Regardless of your operating system, I recommend that you format your drive in the FAT32 file format, because FAT32 is the most widely recognized file format (both for reading and writing), including all of Windows, Mac OSX and Linux systems. Now, the format command/application that comes with Windows cannot format drives as large as 160GB (max partition size is 32GB). Instead, download 'fat32format' from, and run it as 'fat32format H:' to format the drive at H. This takes only a few seconds. (Note for Windows Vista: fat32format must be run as Administrator).

That's all!