Check for New Messages More Frequently with Outlook Express

Outlook Express will check your mail server for new messages immediately when you open the program, but only once every 30 minutes thereafter by default. This setting is a holdover from the “old days” when most users connected to the Internet by slow techniques like dial-up. If you’re connected to the Internet via a network and a high-speed connection, then it’s well worth checking for new messages more frequently – assuming that you’re actually interested in receiving messages in your Inbox more quickly, of course.

Configuring Outlook Express to check for new messages at shorter intervals is a simple affair. Just head to Tools > Options and then head for the Send / Receive Messages section on the General tab. Ensure that the Check for new messages every X minutes option is checked, and then enter a new time interval in the box provided. 5 minutes is perfect for most users, but if you absolutely need to see messages immediately, a shorter interval like 1 or 2 minutes may be more appropriate. Click OK to enforce your new settings.

Turning Off New Newsgroup Notifications in Outlook Express

If you use Outlook Express to browse Usenet or other newsgroups, you’re probably familiar with the “There are new newsgroups” notification message box that appears when you open the program and attempt to connect to the newsgroup server. While this serves as a handy reminder if you’re interested in knowing as new groups come online, it can also be an annoyance in cases where you only view and post to certain specific groups.

Thankfully, turning off this notification is easy enough. Just open Outlook Express and head to the Tools > Options window.  On the General tab in the Options window, look for the second setting in the General section – Notify me if there are any new newsgroups – then uncheck the option and click OK. The message alerting you to the existence of new newsgroups will no longer appear when you connect to the newsgroup server.

Capturing and Saving On-Screen Error Messages in Windows

The next time that a Windows or program error message box appears on your screen that you want to save, don’t go rushing for a pen and paper. While writing down an error message is a reasonable way to ensure that you have some information at hand when searching for a solution to the problem, it’s far from efficient. A far better way to deal with the problem is to take a picture of your screen, and save that picture into a file for later reference.

Now don’t go running for your digital camera either – you don’t need it. All you need is Windows’ built-in ability to capture the contents of your screen, via the PrtScn button on your keyboard. To capture an error message and save it, follow these steps.

  1. When the error message appears, click the PrtScn button. This will copy a snapshot of your screen to the Windows clipboard.
  2. Open a program like Microsoft Word, WordPad, or even Paint and select Edit > Paste. A copy of your screen should now be visible on the screen. Save the file as you normally would and use it for future reference.

If you only want to capture the error message window itself (rather than the entire desktop), hold down the Alt key and then press PrtScn and then paste the window into your preferred program.

Renaming Groups of Files Quickly and Easily

Renaming large numbers of files can be a real pain. While there are many reasons why you may need (or want) to rename large groups of files, one of the most common is with digital photos. By default, your digital camera probably gives every picture you take an image file name like DSC1003.jpg, incrementing the ending number for each subsequent photo. Obviously, this isn’t terribly handy from an identification standpoint when you’re looking a particular picture from last year’s vacation.

Thankfully, Windows makes it easy to rename large groups of files in at once, avoiding the need to rename similar files individually. To do this, begin by selecting all of the files that you want to rename. If it’s all of the files in a particular folder, click Edit > Select All. If it’s only a select group of files you want to rename, highlight those files by pressing down the Ctrl or Shift key and then clicking on the files in question. Release the Ctrl or Shift key once all required files are selected.

Next, press the F2 button and give the first file a new name, for example vacation 2005. After pressing Enter, all of the selected files will be renamed according to this convention, bearing names like vacation 2005 (1), vacation 2005 (2), and so forth. While it’s not the most glamorous solution, it makes small work of bulk renaming files in a simple fashion on a Windows system.

Protocol Analyzers and Cable Testers

A protocol analyzer is a software utility that allows network traffic to be captured, and the contents of frames to be analyzed. A protocol analyzer often provides the best point of reference with respect to communication issues and errors that may be occurring on a network. The capabilities of protocol analyzers vary greatly, and range from enterprise products like Sniffer from Network Associates, to freeware tools like Ethereal.

A cable tester is a small handheld hardware device that can be used to troubleshoot a variety of physical connection and cabling issues. For example, a cable tester can be used to determine whether the pinouts of cables are correct, whether maximum distances have been exceeded, if a cable contains breaks, and so forth. Cable testers are available for a variety of different media (twisted pair, coax, fiber) and tend to be an invaluable resource in when troubleshooting physical layer issues.

Cisco FastStep

Cisco FastStep is another free Windows-based utility that helps users configure, troubleshoot, and monitor selected Cisco routers. Aimed at the small office and home market, this wizard-based tool walks inexperienced users through the configuration of connections to an ISP and/or a corporate network. The product also allows more advanced features (such as DHCP or NAT) to be configured through the wizard interface, depending on the IOS version included with the router. Once configured, another utility called FastStep Monitor provides the ability to monitor router interfaces, and generate email alerts when something goes wrong.

FastStep is only provided for certain router models, including those in the 700, 800, and 1600 series, and the 2509 and 2511 models. The tool is included on a CD with those models, or can be downloaded from the Cisco website.

Cisco ConfigMaker

Cisco ConfigMaker is a great free utility that allows Cisco routers, switches, and hubs to be configured from a graphical application that runs on Windows. The drag-and-drop interface allows you to create a “map” of your network (including links), and then access the properties of devices to complete their configuration. The tool doesn’t require any knowledge of the Cisco IOS command line interface. Once complete, the generated configuration files can be uploaded to devices via their console port, or over the network.

The ConfigMaker tool is aimed at small and medium businesses, as well as Cisco resellers. Routers that can be configured with the tool include those in the 800, 1000, 1600, 2500, 2600, 3600, and 4000 series.

Cisco Netsys Baseliner for Windows NT

Rather than generating network views using SNMP (as is the case with most network management applications), Cisco Netsys Baseliner for Windows NT generates a view of your network using the actual configuration files from existing Cisco network equipment. This provides you with a complete view of the network, including both the physical and logical relationships between devices.

After Netsys Baseliner has created a model of the existing network, it uses an offline version of this model to test for configuration errors. The application also allows you to make changes offline for testing purposes. This provides the opportunity to see what impact any changes may have, before they are committed to the live network. Cisco Netsys Baseliner is currently an End-of-Life product.

Cisco Netsys Performance Service Manager

The Cisco Netsys Performance Service Manager tool is also part of the Cisco Netsys Service-Level Management Suite. Capabilities found within the program include the ability to manage network performance service levels, define performance policies, and troubleshoot performance-related issues. Like the Connectivity Service Manager tool, this tool also builds a view of the current network topology using information stored in the configuration files of deployed equipment.

This tool gathers data in a number of ways, including using SNMP and RMON performance data from network switches and routers. This data provides the ability to visualize network performance in real-time, or to create a baseline measurement against which future changes can be compared, both through “what-if” analysis and actual implementations. Baseline data can also be used to develop service-level policies against which regularly collected data can be compared via a difference mechanism. Tools within the Cisco Netsys Service-Level Management Suite are mainly aimed at larger networks, where service-level agreements have been defined and need to be measured.

Cisco Netsys Connectivity Service Manager

The Cisco Netsys Connectivity Service Manager tool is part of the Cisco Netsys Service-Level Management Suite. The product is focused on providing information that allows you to troubleshoot a variety of network connectivity issues. The application builds a map of the existing network using the configuration files of existing Cisco devices, and subsequently allows you to use this information to troubleshoot issues relating to network availability, security, and reliability.

Capabilities found in the application include the ability to view different topologies, such as the physical or logical connections between equipment. Taken a step further, protocol views are also provided, for example the ability to view OSPF areas and interconnections. The application also helps in determining the source of network errors, including those related to access lists, mismatched frame types, incorrect subnet masks, and so forth. Positioned as a tool to help companies move towards a proactive management strategy, the Netsys Connectivity Service Manager also provides extended capabilities such as offline “what-if” analysis by way of the VISTA (view, isolate, solve, test, apply) troubleshooting methodology.

Note: All of the software in Cisco’s Netsys line has reached end-of-life (EOL) status.