Jewish World Review May 20, 2004 / 29 Iyar, 5764

Tweaking tool helps speed up Windows entry; opening Adobe Reader impacts Internet connections, closing programs and even shutting down the computer becomes an extremely slow, difficult process; "disks needs to be checked for consistency"

By James Coates | (KRT) Q. Even though I'm the only one that uses it, Windows makes me log on every time I turn on my computer. I understand there is a fix that eliminates my having to do that, but I can't find it. I recently upgraded from Windows 98 to XP Professional.

Dick Stiles, Franktown, Colo.

A. Your question is among dozens of other issues about the various versions of Windows that can be resolved by downloading a utility called TweakUI. The software was created by Microsoft programmers, but the company does not support the utility.

In your case, Mr. S., TweakUI includes a routine that will stop Windows from asking for passwords at login as it does by default.

The TweakUI tool is included in what Microsoft calls Power Toys that allow users to customize their machines. TweakUI handles everything from the auto logon you seek to letting users remove programs from the list at the Start menu.

You can use it to change the browser so it always erases history files whenever you close the browser. A second browser tool lets you choose any search engine you want as the default. TweakUI lets users hide the existence of external hard drives connected to the machine and alter the way the mouse works among, other tweaks.

My favorite TweakUI feature is one called Tips that is listed at the top of the program's display and contains dozens of very useful insights into things like keyboard shortcuts and finding files, changing icons and defragmenting drives.

So let me answer your question by pointing you and other readers to a tool that keeps many of us propeller heads busy long into the night. It's at

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Q. Whenever I open a document using Adobe Reader, my Internet connections suffer big time. Closing programs and even shutting down the computer becomes an extremely slow and difficult process. What's the cause and is there a solution?

Mark S. Hillenbrand, Palos Hills

A. First of all, make sure that your machine has downloaded the latest version of this free software, Adobe Reader 6.0. The software permits anybody with a Web browser to display the PDF files that are created by the company's expensive flagship product, Adobe Acrobat.

Early versions of Reader tended to slow down because they would load page after page and display each behind the other, thus running the software so often that machine resources got used up. If you do have an older version and are resisting an upgrade, click on Edit and then Preferences and General and you will find a setting to disable multiple-page loading.

With Reader 6.0, there are several settings that let one reduce the amount of machine resources consumed by clicking on a PDF file online. So go to Start and then look for the icon for the Adobe Reader, which is a stand-alone program as well as a plug-in for the Web browser you use.

With Reader open, tap Control + K to call up commands to change basic settings. Go to the Internet area and make sure you have activated the "fast Web" display feature and ordered the software to download following pages of a document in the background rather than just downloading a page at a time--which forces the software to start from scratch with each page view.

Also check the Page Display menu to make sure it is set for maximum speed.

The new 6.0 version of Reader adds a number of attention-grabbing features, including one that will read the text of a PDF document aloud. Adobe also offers a free download of a stripped-down version of its useful Photoshop Album 2.0 software that displays photographs, keeps track of their locations and delivers slide shows of one's digital pictures.

Here's hoping that you not only fix the downloading speeds by upgrading, but also enjoy all the new bells and whistles that Adobe offers in its never-ending drive to get us to buy its products by giving away some goodies.

Q. I am running a 2 gHz Dell PC with Windows XP. I have partitioned the hard drive into several partitions. I usually keep the PC on all the time. However, when I turn it off and restart, I always get a message that one of my disks (Drive K) needs to be checked for consistency. If I let the computer check the disk, there are no problems encountered and Windows starts. If I hit Enter to abort the disk check, Windows starts. This happens every time I start my computer.

Is there something that I can do to solve this annoying problem?

Ed Schonsett

A. You may be in bigger trouble than you think, Mr. S., because that warning message you are getting usually means that there is a mechanical problem with a hard drive and there is a strong chance that it will fail sometime in the future--probably the near future.

Those messages are sent from a feature called SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) built into most motherboards to check hard-drive reliability.

A great many people, this writer included, have been confronted with that SMART warning and also found, as you have, that if we just ignored it the computer would start as it always had. This makes one assume that the warnings are false since the computer starts up every time.

Then comes the awful day when the computer starts chirping like a bucket full of crickets as the drive's reading arm starts skidding across the write surface, turning data into irretrievable gibberish.

The reality is that even though the computer detects problems with the track and sector data for a drive, those problems aren't likely to cause problems right away. But something is wrong and you need to be a tad fretful for the immediate future.

Right now you should back up all the data on the drive and then keep making backups every time you shut the machine down.

My warnings aside, you probably can shut off those grim reminders by calling up the BIOS setup menu at bootup, usually by holding down the F2 key as the drive starts to spin. Depending upon your BIOS version and motherboard, you will probably find a setting to either shut down the SMART warnings themselves or to shut down all system warnings.

But let me leave you with a paraphrase from Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca":

"If that drive crashes and you didn't make a backup, you'll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life."

Well, maybe not for the rest of your life, but having a hard drive crash remains just about the worst thing that can happen to a computer.

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James Coates is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Let us know what you think of this column by clicking here.



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