Check those credit card statements!

January 12th, 2009

I know that it can take some courage to open those post-holiday credit card statements, but it's a really good idea to do so! Why? Well, you need to be on the lookout for any charges that might have been made by scammers - even small charges could be a sign that more are about to be made.

Security experts advise consumers to keep a close eye on their bank and credit card statements, and for good reason: Small, unauthorized charges often are the first sign that thieves have made off with your account number and are getting ready to sell it to other crooks or use it to rack up thousands of dollars in fraudulent purchases.

It's one thing spending your own money, it's quite another to let fraudsters get away with spending it!

Convert iTunes Plus files into MP3

January 8th, 2009

Question: How do I convert my DRM-free iTunes Plus music into MP3?

The other day Apple announced that it was making about 80% of the iTunes store DRM free, with the remaining 20% to follow shortly. DRM-free iTunes means that in theory you should be able move your music to other computers and devices easily ...

But ... iTunes Plus DRM-free music comes in .m4a format which is based on the MPEG-4 part 14 standard. Problem is, far more devices don't recognize what to do with .m4a than do (and its video sibling, .m4v). MP3 is a far more popular format.

So, can you convert .m4a files into.mp3 files? Yes you can, and you can do it all from within iTunes! Here's how:

  1. Click on Edit > Preferences. From the General tab click on Import Settings ... button.
  2. Change the Import Using drop down box to MP3 Encoder.
  3. From the Settings drop down box select Custom ... and choose a Stereo Bit Rate of 256Kbps.
  4. Click OK, OK and OK.
  5. Now find a file that you want to convert, right-click on it and select Create MP3 Version and an MP3 copy will be created.

That's all there is to it!

Windows 7 Beta 1 goes public on Friday

January 8th, 2009

Dying to get your hands on the Beta 1 on Windows 7? Your wait is nearly over! Microsoft will make a public beta available Friday!

A select number of beta testers got their hands on code last night, while TechNet and MSDN subscribers can get their hands on it today. Unfortunately everyone else will have to wait until Friday.

I'll post download links when it goes live.

IE blocker toolkit available for download

January 7th, 2009

You can tell that Microsoft is preparing the way for a new version of Internet Explorer when it releases a blocker toolkit that allows companies to have some breathing time between the new release being available and actually installing the new version.

Program manager Jane Maliouta goes over the core features of this toolkit over on IEBlog:

We believe IE8 helps make browsing the web faster, easier, safer and more reliable. To help our users be more secure and up-to-date, we will distribute IE8 via Automatic Update (AU) and the Windows Update (WU) and Microsoft Update (MU) sites much like we did for IE7. We know that in a corporate environment, the IT organization will often want to delay the introduction of a new browser until they have tested compatibility with internal applications and sites.  We’ve done a lot of work in IE8 to maintain compatibility with sites designed for Internet Explorer 7, for example compatibility view and the compatibility meta tag.  However we know many IT organizations will still want to test the browser before it is deployed.  To help prevent users from installing IE8 through Automatic Update before compatibility testing has been completed, we are providing the IE8 Blocker Toolkit. This toolkit has no expiration date and can be configured either by running the registry file on the client machines or via Group Policy in domain joined environments. The Blocker Toolkit is available today from the Microsoft Download Center.


If you configure the IE8 Blocker Toolkit setting to prevent users from installing IE8 via WU/AU, IE8 will not appear in the list of available high priority or important updates. We believe this approach strikes a good balance by helping customers become more secure and letting organizations control when they are ready to deploy IE8 to their users.

If you want breathing space once IE8 is released, you should download and install this toolkit now.

Change display language of non Ultimate and Enterprise Vista editions

December 29th, 2008

Have you bought a desktop or notebook PC running Vista Home Basic, Home Premium or Business and want to change the display language? Microsoft wants you to buy Vista Ultimate (or Enterprise, but that's a little more complex) to do this simple thing, but here's a way to do it for free - using Vistalizator.

Here's the deal. If you're running Vista Ultimate you can install Microsoft's Vista language packs as part of the Ultimate Extras and switch between different languages. If you're running Home Basic or Home Premium then you're stuck with the one language. This is a really annoying limitation.


Vistalizator makes the job simple. You download the app, download the language pack you want (available on the download page), work your way through a few simple steps and in a few minutes you've changed the language of your system!

If you are feeling ambitious you can actually create installation media in the language that you want.

Note that all this goes way outside of what's supported by Microsoft and if things go wrong, you are on your own!