Microsoft TechNet for the rest of us

Michael lasky By Michael Lasky

Microsoft’s TechNet site, dubbed “Resources for IT Professionals,” is a rich repository of high-level geek talk plus tips for enterprise-class IT personnel.

But don’t let that reputation put you off — TechNet is also a gold mine of excellent tips and tricks for individual Windows users as well.

TechNet exists as a place where corporate IT pros can find detailed information and training — a resource that will make it easier for them to adopt and deploy Microsoft products within their companies. But in his July 1 column, “The ultimate software deal has strings attached” (paid content), Woody Leonhard wrote that anyone — not just IT professionals — could sign up and pay for a TechNet subscription (site). Starting at around U.S. $200, the subscription included the right to download full versions of almost any Microsoft software.

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Fortunately, if you want to mine the oceans of info available on the TechNet site, you don’t need a subscription! Mine is the operative word, however. Finding the information you’re looking for often means digging through what seems to be ever-cascading layers of links, sublinks, and sub-sub-sublinks.

Using Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, may get you to your destination, but more often it will lead to other parts of Microsoft’s vast corporate site — even when the search bar says, “Search TechNet with Bing.” With no easy road map to follow, gleaning gold from TechNet means following many links.

Newcomers to the TechNet home page (see Figure 1) might assume that the top-line tabs are the best starting points. But I advise going to the TechCenters column (left side of the home page) instead. There, under Resources, TechNet Magazine and TechNet Blogs yielded the best tips — many of them otherwise difficult to find.

MS technet home page
Figure 1. A labyrinth of information, TechNet is best explored via the TechCenters links.

TechNet Magazine yields a wealth of tips

On the TechNet Magazine page, click Tips in the tab bar near the top of the page. If you’re looking for desktop OS information, you can choose Windows 7 or Windows Vista — but you won’t find Windows XP. (I’ll focus on Windows 7 because it’s the newest OS.)

I found over six dozen tips for Win7 (some of which also work with Windows XP), some original to the site and many others taken from a cornucopia of Microsoft Press books. A quick read of the titles might give the impression that they’re for an IT audience, but many of the tips are just as useful to the rest of us. Here are a few examples of helpful tip articles:
  • Manage icons that display in the Windows 7 notification area: You can often control the appearance of an application’s notification area icon from within the app. But Windows 7 gives you more universal control, as explained in this tip.

  • Create and save custom views for Windows 7 Event Viewer: If you’re trying to track down a pesky program or device with repeated visits to the Event Viewer, creating a custom view can help pinpoint the problem. This tip shows you how, step by step.

  • Customize the Command Prompt in Windows 7: The DOS Command Prompt doesn’t have to look the same each time you call it. You can customize the font, color, and size and even change it to match a particular task, as explained in this tip.

  • Use some (relatively) unknown command-line switches for Disk Cleanup: This tip tells how to save preferences and automate future runs. For a better description of these options, see Fred Langa’s March 13, 2008, Windows Secrets article, “Using Windows’ hidden Disk Cleanup options.”

  • Optimize how Windows 7 runs 16-bit and MS-DOS–based programs: There are some 16-bit and DOS programs that we can’t just leave behind. But running them together in Win7′s virtual PC can cause them to hang or crash. The tip describes how to run them in separate memory spaces.

  • Understand and manage Windows Connect Now for easy Wi-Fi configurations: Originally created to connect Xboxes to wireless networks, Windows Connect Now (WCN) lets you store network configuration information on a USB flash drive — a quick and easy way to let guests access an encrypted wireless network. But there are potential pitfalls, so use this tip to stay out of trouble. (Microsoft included WCN in Windows versions XP SP2 and up.)

  • Find hidden info in the Windows Media Player controls: At first glance, it seems tools for customizing Windows Media Player 11 are nonexistent. However, a few right-clicks in the right places will bring them to the surface, as described in this brief tip.

  • Display administrative tools on the Windows 7 Start menu: Normally, you won’t find admin tools on the Start menu. But with help from this tip, you can put them both there and in the All Programs submenu. A few left- and right-clicks make it happen.

  • Get the Full Path of a folder or file in Windows 7: The full path of a folder or file appeared in the XP address bar; in Win 7, it doesn’t — at least in the way we were used to seeing it. This tip describes how to remedy that shortcoming.

  • Get seven free tools for managing disks and file systems: This tip gives a taste of the free utilities available at TechNet’s Sysinternals library. The tip includes links and examples for seven useful apps. (See more on Sysinternals below.)
Find hot new tips on the TechNet Blogs site

The blog subsite of TechNet is a labyrinth in every sense of the word. Topics are sorted by date, not by topic, so using it means plodding through a grab bag of non sequiturs. With new posts appearing daily and older posts dated back to July 2005, it’s fortunate that there’s a Tags window. Located on the right side of the blog pages, Tags lets you filter and sort topics of interest that are otherwise scattered throughout the site.

Clicking any of the tags (Windows 7, for example) produces a list of related posts sorted by date. A more complete (read: way longer) list of tags fills the page’s right column.

If you want daily TechNet tip alerts, you’ll find them posted on Facebook (facebook.com/technettips) and Twitter (twitter.com/technettips). The majority of these social-networking posts simply link back to TechNet sites, but it’s a good way to find out what’s new.

Sysinternal’s massive catalog of utilities

TechNet is also the portal to Microsoft’s Sysinternals Live site, a rich catalogue of tools, tech information, and utilities to diagnose and troubleshoot Windows OS and application issues. Sysinternals was created by Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell to host their advanced system utilities. A decade after its creation, Microsoft bought the site and added it to TechNet.

Past Windows Secrets columns have discussed some Sysinternals tools, but many more are available on the site.

Sysinternals Live lets users launch Sysinternal tools directly from the Web without having to manually download them. Simply enter a tool’s Sysinternals Live path into Windows Explorer or a command prompt. For example:

http://live.sysinternals.com/{tool name}

or

\live.sysinternals.comtools{tool name}

You can view the entire Sysinternals Live tools in an FTP-like directory within your browser and instantly download listed utilities. Links on the home page give you an expressway to six categories of tools: File and Disk Utilities, Networking Utilities, Process Utilities, Security Utilities, System Information Utilities, and Miscellaneous Utilities.

I’ve highlighted just a fraction of the tips and utilities found in TechNet. These examples hopefully show that Microsoft’s tech information site has a larger audience than just IT folks. Take some time to search a few topics, and you’re bound to find answers to some of your vexing Windows questions.

Feedback welcome: Have a question or comment about this story? Post your thoughts, praises, or constructive criticisms in the WS Columns forum.

WS contributing editor Michael Lasky is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California, who has 20 years of computer-magazine experience, most recently as senior editor at PC World.
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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2010-11-18:

Michael Lasky

About Michael Lasky

WS contributing editor Michael Lasky is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California, who has 20 years of computer-magazine experience, most recently as senior editor at PC World.