This is part of a multi-part series on Download a la Mode tools, reformatted for a workshop….

In this section of Download a la Mode, the following questions are addressed:

  1. How can you keep your hard drive running smooth without problems?
  2. How can I easily backup my data off my Windows hard drive?
  3. How do I uninstall a program on my computer so that ALL the preferences and settings are gone?
  4. How do you compress files for transfer?
  5. How can I easily create/combine PDF files for free without Adobe Acrobat Professional ($100+)?
  6. How can I turn turn a USB Flash drive into a diagnostic, repair, and maintenance tool?
  7. What new utilities are out for Windows and Mac to help me organize the mess of files I have on my computer?
  8. How can I quickly install my favorite software programs on my Windows computer?


How can you keep your hard drive running smooth without problems?

One of the things you can do to keep your computer’s hard drive running smooth is to periodically defragment it. Defragging, according to Leo Notenboom, is short for defragmenting which rearranges the layout of files on your hard disk for faster access. He goes on to use one of my favorite analogies for what happens when your computer is in need of defragmenting:

  • Imagine if you had the pages of a book randomly distributed around your house. You know where they are and in what order to read them, but you have to run all over the house as you get each successive page.

Defragmenting will put all the pages in the “book” back together in their proper order. On Windows computer, there are two programs that can be used at no charge; those programs include:

  1. UltraDefrag –
  2. Defraggler –

Unfortunately, there are no free programs available for Macintosh. This problem does not afflict GNU/Linux operating systems.

How can I easily backup my data off my Windows hard drive?

Backing up your computer can be tough work. Although 500 gigabyte USB external drives are now available for purchase, you can still get stuck. I still remember a frantic email from a colleague at 9:00 PM, “How can I backup my hard drive?” At the time, I didn’t have an answer and had to research it.
Four no-cost solutions you can rely on include the following:

Each of these solutions includes different features. Some of the ones that are must-haves include automated/scheduled backups, ability to backup to multiple media types (e.g. DVD, multi-session DVD, CD, to an FTP server), and compression of backup files as ZIP files to save space. One feature I look for especially is incremental backup that only saves what has changed, rather than making a complete backup (time-consuming).
Although Comodo Backup and SyncBack are both excellent choices, Backup Easy presents a neat alternative—it is cross-platform because it runs as a Java application. One final feature to look for is encryption of backup files, in case you’re working with confidential data.

How do I uninstall a program on my computer so that ALL the preferences and settings are gone?

When you install a program on your computer, that program inserts itself into a variety of places. Uninstalling that program is not as easy as simply throwing the folder from C:\Program Files into the Recycle Bin on your Windows or throwing the application on your Mac into the Trash Can. Programs leave what are called “preferences” or edits to your computer’s registry.

These can, overtime, cause problems. To successfully remove a program, take advantage of one of the following programs for Windows, or as appropriate, Macintosh. After uninstalling a program, on Windows computers, it might also be necessary to finish the process by optimizing your computer’s registry using a program that does just that. In the Windows section of software available, you will find two programs that can help with that.


  1. Revo Uninstaller – Some times, you need a program that will completely uninstall a program, including cleaning up your Windows registry. This program accomplishes that and ensures complete removal of a program. Get the portable version online at
  2. CCleaner – This invaluable tool actually cleans up your computer’s registry, and run periodically, keeps your computer running in tip-top shape. Get the portable version online at
  3. PowerTools Lite – Another tool to help clean up your computer’s registry. You can this in addition to CCLeaner. Get it online at


  1. AppDelete – To use this program, download and install it then drag your unwanted applications on to it and it will be removed. Get it online at

How do you compress files for transfer?

Sending email attachments is easy, but can cause a lot of trouble for the recipient of your email message. Before you send an email message, contact the recipient and agree on a compression format that you can use. Compression programs work like electronic suitcases that allow you to carry your clothes on long trips. You put your clothes in a suitcase for easy carrying. This is the same reason that compression programs are used. There are several compression formats you can find online.

The most popular compression format is ZIP. This is an established compression format that is available on Linux, Windows, and Macs. The programs that you use to decompress files include (but aren’t limited to):

The UnArchiveris a cross-platform decompression program for Macintosh that is FREE. The UnArchiver uncompresses all popular compressed and encoded formats including ZIP (.zip). This program’s ease of use and ability to handle many file-types make it a must-have on the Macintosh. For example, double-clicking on a zip file can create a directory and extract all files into it. The program only decompresses files and cannot handle multi-part or encrypted files.

On Windows, you can use the versatile PEAZip. PEAzip, per their web site, points out the following:

  • PEAzip can extract most of archive formats both from Windows and Unix worlds: currently 87 file extensions are supported ranging from mainstream 7Z, RAR, TAR and ZIP to experimental ones like PAQ/LPAQ family, currently the most powerful compressor available. For archive creation, PeaZip supports a wide range of compression and encryption standard, from fastest to most powerful ones, and allows to export job definition as scripts to bridge the gap between GUI and console applications, and let the user pick the best of the two worlds.

You can create, as well as decompress, zip files on the Macintosh, GNU/Linux and Windows XP platform using built-in ZIP compression. Simply right click on the file or folder of files you want to compress and take advantage of the SEND TO COMPRESSED (ZIP) FOLDER. Of course, there are a wealth of compression programs.

You can also create self-extracting, or executable, password-protected archives that don’t require a decompression program to expand. This is useful if you want to give a file to a neophyte who may not know how to handle compressed programs yet, as well as enhance security.

For Macintosh users, zipping is as simple as a right-mouse click (or Ctrl-Click with a single button mouse). When right-button mouse clicking, click on the file you want to ARCHIVE files to ZIP format.

How can I easily create/combine PDF files for free without Adobe Acrobat Professional ($100+)?

“We put our evaluation reports in Acrobat PDF,” shared one grant evaluation company, “because it protects the integrity of our work.” What an eye-opening experience it was for that person to find out differently. Even if you have the full version of Adobe Acrobat (about $150), or if an Adobe Acrobat PDF file is passworded, you can bypass its security using PDF Password Recovery software. Even though you may not use PDF files to ensure integrity of your data, there are other benefits.

Sharing files in Portable Document Format (PDF) is convenient because it allows people to view your work without having to have the original software program. This is especially true if you created a beautiful pamphlet in MS Publisher (available only for Windows) but then wanted to send it to a friend who was using a Macintosh. It is also true when sharing documents with someone who does not have the same fonts you have (e.g. you have Print Shop/Artist installed and they do not).
You can get a free PDF creator for Windows known as PDF Creator. Although previously a shareware program, it was released as freeware in 2004. To ensure that it is made into freeware, you will need to apply what’s known as a patch. Macintosh users have PDF creation built-in to OS X.

You can also find a wealth of PDF tools–including converting PDF documents to MS Word format–online at this site:

How can I turn turn a USB Flash drive into a diagnostic, repair, and maintenance tool?

About two weeks ago, a colleague walked up to me and shared that her laptop’s hard drive had become inaccessible. Any way to pull the information off of it? I said, “Yes, definitely!” Using my UbuntuLinux formatted boot USB Flash Drive, I was able to start up her computer, and we pulled all her data off the laptop, saving it to an external USB drive ($60 at Walmart gets you 250gigs these days).

Here is how to get your own UbuntuLinux boot drive:

  1. Download Ubuntu.iso file –
  2. Download UNetbootin which will install the .iso file on the thumbdrive
  3. Run UNetbootin
  4. Point the install at the Ubuntu .iso file
  5. Select the USB drive where you want to install.

I tried this out on an 8gig USB Flash drive (about $20-$25 for the drive) without problem, and a colleague did it on 4gig. Whether it will work on 1gig, I’m not sure.

A short time ago, I pointed out a reduced price offer on 16-gig lanyard USB flash drive. While a colleague pointed out I could easily buy a 150gig hard drive for $45-$50 more than I paid for the lanyard drive ($41), I didn’t want to lug around a big drive (that’s the laptop’s role right now).
If you are willing to spend some more money, you can buy a 16-gig USB Flash drive. Mine arrived last week and I had a lot of fun reformatting it, partitioning it (using UbuntuLinux’s Partition Editor) into two pieces…about 4.8gigs for UbuntuLinux (9.04) and the rest for data.
When I used Unetbootin to install Ubuntu, I forgot that all I was doing was setting it up to mimic a CD boot. That’s not what I wanted. I wanted to be able to store my information, customize the desktop, install software, etc. To accomplish that, I had to take these steps:

  1. Use a PC and boot off a flash drive (CD would work, too) with Ubuntu 9.04. The hard drive of the PC was not affected or touched at all.
  2. After booting, plug-in my 16gig flash drive, unmount it and then partition it using Ubuntu’s Partition Editor.
  3. Install ubuntuLinux to the 4.8 gig partition of my 16gig flash drive
  4. Reformat the remainder (about 10.1 gigs) as FAT32 to make it widely compatible with every OS I use (Mac,Win,UbuntuLinux)

The process took about 30 minutes on the install and works just fine. I have installed a variety of Windows anti-spyware and anti-virus tools on it that I can run to clean Windows computers I might encounter.
I’m now able to boot off the 16gig flash drive and have a portable environment of tools I like ready to go. Doing the same isn’t hard at all for Mac OS X Leopard…just boot off a CD and install the operating system to the Flash drive (at least 8 gigs required). With more space, I can imagine lots of things one can do.

What new utilities are out for Windows and Mac to help me organize the mess of files I have on my computer?

When you work with lots of documents, presentations, sound files, moving folders and files around can be a bit of a pain. I’ve grown accustomed to using some kind of file manager to move things around. If you’re looking for an easy way to manage your files on Windows, Mac and Linux, then you are in for a treat.

I’ve been working hard to clean up my data files. It’s amazing what you accummulate or duplicate with poor filing. One of the key tools I like to use in filing is a two-window commander type program. Using these tools dates back to my late teens with using computers, so I grew up on computers using all these diferent file managers. If you’ve followed this blog, you may already be familiar with some of my other favorite file management tools. These tools make managing your files a lot easier than wading through stacks of folders on your computer’s desktop. These allow me move files, delete, zip/unzip fairly quickly and without fuss.

I decided I’d look around for a “Mac Commander” type program, and what do you know, I found one program that works on all 3 platforms, is Java-based, and has a small footprint (you can keep it on a USB flash drive). I’ve already fallen in “love” with it, and I’m excited about using it on other platforms. Try out the free MuCommander!
Download it at

If you’re a Macintosh user, or an envious Windows user of Mac functionality, you are familiar with iPhoto. iPhoto is an application that gives you a thumbnail view of all the photos on your hard drive and enables easy management and locating. But, what if you are looking to organize not just photos but other types of files, such as the plethora of Adobe PDF files that find their way onto your computer? If you’re a Macintosh user, you can use an iPhoto-type application for managing Adobe PDF files in an easy, graphical interface that sports thumbnails of PDF content. The program is known as YEP and it allows you to centralize your PDF files for simplified management, and enables you to add tags (one word descriptors) to each PDF file. YEP also generates tags for your PDF file thumbnails based on the actual title and contents of the file, which is handy since you do not have to create any yourself if you so choose. While YEP is Macintosh only, though, and while the 1.1 version is free in perpetuity (so it says), the 1.2 version will cost money. So, be warned that if you want to take advantage of this tool, you’ll probably get addicted and have to pay down the road.

Some people assert that this PDF magic can be done in iTunes, an assertion supported by this tutorial available from Apple, a how to on adding PDFs to playlists. Managing multiple files on your computer can be tough, especially now that we all have increasing access to 120gig USB External drives.

On the Windows XP side, some folks have given into using Google Desktop, which worries me due to Google’s proclivity for sharing information. Privacy should be a concern for an 21st Century Learners, even if they are, as Wes Fryer describes them, “digital refugees” (as opposed to natives or immigrants). However, there are other programs that aren’t as invasive of one’s privacy. One option is Copernic Desktop Search and a list of all the file types it indexes on Windows is available online. I like Copernic’s privacy statement, which reads:

> We understand your concerns and CDS was designed with your privacy in mind. Rest assured that the data indexed by CDS stays on your PC and on no account will it be transferred to us or any of our partners. Furthermore, computer activity is never logged. It is solely monitored to enable or disable the indexing process.
You can find these two free utilities online at:

  1. YEP for Macintosh-
  2. Copernic Desktop Search for Windows-

Linux users have access to two utilities, one of which is Beagle and available for installation via the usual means on Debian distributions of Linux (sudo apt-get install beagle).

How can I quickly install my favorite software programs on my Windows computer?

When setting up a new computer, an activity that can be time-consuming if you’re not working from a recorded image of the hard drive, there comes a time when you want to install useful utilities. On UbuntuLinux, there is a simple program (script) known as “Automatix” that automatically loads all the useful software you need. Forget about going out to download media players, etc. Instead, the automatic program takes care of the work. Is there a program for Windows? The answer is “Yes, it’s InstallPad.
The author of
InstallPad describes it in this way:

  • …an innovative new Windows utility called InstallPad automates downloads and software installation. Simply provide InstallPad with your favorite apps’ URLs and it does all the footwork for you – while you spend your time doing something much more interesting.

Some of the programs that are installed include—but not limited to—Firefox, Adobe Reader, Picasa (image management), GAIM Instant Messaging, Mozilla Thunderbird Email, VLC Media Player, Google Earth, Ad-Aware, Ccleaner, ClamWin AntiVirus, Spybot Search and Destroy, and Spyware Blaster. You can also get Audacity Sound Editor, Democracy TV (Internet TV Player), and others. You may notice that many of these programs are ones that have been featured in previous
Download a la Mode// articles. There are several components, and you will want to download all of the following items that appear online at address shown above. Components include the following:

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure