“Run commands” can make your Windows usage more productive.

There are often several ways of achieving the same end in Windows. An example of this is “run commands”. A “run command” is a an instruction to run a specific program or utility. It is an alternative to finding the program name or icon in Windows that would have achieved the same end. The advantage, of run commands, of course, is that you don’t have to hunt around Windows to find them.

As an example – in Windows 7 we can change the appearance of the desktop by navigating to the “personalization” screen as follows:

  • Start button
  • Control Panel option
  • View by small icons or large icons
  • Personalization

This can be achieved with a run command:

  • Start button
  • Run option
  • type in “control desktop” and then click on OK

In this case “control desktop” is the run command. There are well over a hundred of these. In each case, they are executed by opening the “Start menu”, clicking on the “run” option and then typing in the specfic command. I find that that it is worth remembering a few that I use often and, just as importantly, knowing where I can find a list containing many more. This can often cut down the frustration of not being able to find a particular command in Windows that you know is there but which you can’t find. In these cases, scanning through a list of run commands can be quicker and less frustrating.

If the “run” command does not appear on your Windows 7 start menu, you can configure it to do so by following Microsoft’s instructions.

Windows 7 Run Box

Windows 7 Run Box

Also, you can bring up the run box even if it does not appear on your start menu by depressing the key with the Window logo (if your keyboard has one) and typing the letter r. This brings up the “run box” ready to type the command into.

 

Windows remembers the previous run commands that you have issued and these can be accessed by clicking on the triangle at the right of the text-input area. This means that you don’t have to remember the name of the command if you have used it before: you just have to recognise it as the one you want when you see it.

I’ve sifted through lists of these run commands and selected 25 that you may find useful. I’ve tested these in Windows 7 but they may not all work in earlier versions of Windows. You can find more comprehensive lists and more information here.

Description Run Command
Add/Remove Programs appwiz.cpl
Administrative Tools control admintools
Calculator calc
Character map charmap
Computer Management compmgmt.msc
Control Panel control
Date and Time Properties timedate.cpl
Device Manager devmgmt.msc
Disk Cleanup Utility cleanmgr
Display Properties desk.cpl
Fonts control fonts
Malicious Software Removal Tool mrt
Notepad notepad
Power Configuration powercfg.cpl
Printers and Faxes control printers
Regional Settings intl.cpl
Security Center wscui.cpl
System Configuration Utility msconfig
System Information msinfo32
Task Manager taskmgr
Ease of Access Centre utilman
Windows Explorer explorer
Windows Firewall firewall.cpl
Windows Magnifier magnify
About Windows winver

It is sometimes a good idea to uninstall software that you don’t use.

Why?

It may be using valuable resources on your computer that can affect performance. On the other hand, it may be annoying you because you don’t like it, or it ate your doctoral thesis, or was installed without permission by a 13 year old and now keeps insisting on checking for updates.

What does it mean to uninstall a program?

When you put a new program on your computer it is not just a case of copying the program files to a place where you can find them. The operating system (Windows) needs to put the files in a logical place, take note of where they are, make the program accessible, record information about the program so that it knows what to do with it each time you run it, and so forth. All of this is taken care of by the process of “installing” the program.
This means that if you subsequently wish to remove a program you need to set in motion a process that will “back-track” or “unpick” all of these steps. This includes, but is by no means limited to, deleting the files that were copied onto your computer when you installed the program. Note, by the way, that I refer to “files” in the plural: a single “program” is almost always composed of many individual files. This process of removing the files, settings, and other traces that make up a program is called “uninstalling”.

What you must not do

You must not just look on your computer for any files with the name of the program you want to remove and delete it/them. This would almost certainly leave you in a worse position than you were in before. There could be many situations in which Windows goes looking for a program file you have deleted and won’t know what to do when it can’t find it. At best you will see an error message and at worst your whole system will freeze. And what makes this worse is that you may also have broken the normal method for removing that program properly.
Another thing that it is tempting to do is to delete the icon on the desktop that launches the program. By all means do this if you just wish to reclaim some space on your desktop, but be aware that deleting a shortcut does not in any way delete or uninstall the program to which it is connected. Deleting a shortcut does just that – the program itself is left intact and the shortcut could be re-created at any time.

Correctly Removing (Uninstalling) Programs

The term usually used for removing a computer programs is “uninstalling”. Without hesitation, I would recommend that the first – and probably only – method you use is the Windows uninstall routine. This varies slightly depending on the version of Windows you are using.

Windows XP

Windows XP Control Panel and Run buttons

Windows XP Control Panel and Run buttons

  1. Click on the “Start” button and launch “Add or Remove Programs” by either of the two following methods:
  • Click on the “Run” option.
  • Type appwiz.cpl into the box and press the Enter key.

or

  • Click on the “Control Panel” option.
  • Double-click on “Add or Remove Programs”.
  1. Find the program you wish to remove by searching through the alphabetical list.
  2. Click on the program name.
  3. Click on the “Remove” button or “Change/Remove” button that will appear to the right of the selected program name.
  4. Follow the prompts.

Windows Vista

  1. Click on the “Start” button and launch “Add or Remove Programs” by either of the two following methods:
  • Type appwiz.cpl into the “search” box and press the “Enter” key.

or

  • Click on the “Control Panel” option.
  • Click on “Classic View” (at the top lefthand side of the screen).
  • Double-click on “Programs and Features”.
  1. Find the program you wish to remove by searching through the alphabetical list.
  2. Click on the program name.
  3. Click on the “Uninstall” button that is above the list of program names.
  4. Follow the prompts.

Windows 7

Windows 7 Start Button and Search box

Windows 7 Start Button and Search box

  1. Click on the “Start” button and launch “Add or Remove Programs” by either of the two following methods:
  • Type appwiz.cpl into the “search” box and press the “Enter” key.

or

  • Click on the “Control Panel” option.
  • Click on the triangle next to “View by” (at the top righthand side of the screen) and select either “Small icons” or “Large icons”.
  • Double-click on “Programs and Features”.
  1. Find the program you wish to remove by searching through the alphabetical list.
  2. Click on the program name.
  3. Click on the “Uninstall” button that is above the list of program names.
  4. Follow the prompts.

What if it doesn’t work?

Sometimes a program will not appear on the list, or clicking on the button to remove it will result in an error message indicating that the program can not be uninstalled. In that case, the next thing to try is to locate the “unwise” file in the program folder in which the program resides. This is getting slightly more hazardous as you need to be sure you are in the right folder (so that the right program will be uninstalled) and it is also possible that the uninstallation process will remove one or more files that are shared with other programs.

If there is no “unwise” file associated with the program, then the next step would be to install and run a utility such as Revo Uninstaller. To be honest, though, unless the program that you are trying to remove is definitely causing problems to the rest of the system, it may be better to leave it installed than to try these last two methods – unless you want to take the risk of learning more about computers (the hard way) than you had bargained for.

Dropbox Re-visited

Dropbox logoA while ago I wrote favourably about Dropbox and the way that it copies files of your choosing to one or more other computers automatically. I am still using it all the time to ensure that I have the latest versions of important files with me on my netbook when I am visiting clients. There are two things that I would like to add:

  • There have been concerns that Dropbox is not as private as we might like. Their previous privacy policy suggested that employees of Dropbox were not able to view files stored using Dropbox (the files are stored on Dropbox’s servers as well as distributed among your own computers). It now appears that that is not the case and that they would reveal our data to relevant authorities (in the USA) if subpoenaed to do so. Moreover, since Dropbox do have the ability to view files it means that customers’ files are vulnerable to mistakes or malpractices of its own employees. See here for a good exposition of the situation. Like the writer of that blog, I am considering leaving Dropbox, but am reluctant to do so as I have come to rely on its usefulness.
  • I recently password-protected an (existing) Excel 2010 spreadsheet and then promptly forgot what password I had used. Although I definitely had unprotected backups, they were not current. Then I remembered that Dropbox keeps previous versions of files. By logging on to my Dropbox account I was very easily able to restore an unprotected version of the spreadsheet from just before the time I locked myself out of it. Magic! That’s another reason I won’t drop Dropbox easily.

Email Netiquette Re-visited

Some aspects of what is considered polite and proper in emailing are important – such as not revealing email addresses in the “CC field” when the recipients do not know each other (see Shouty Emails and Email Address Fields for my previous posts on this). Others are less so. I was recently amused by an article on the BBC website about how we greet each other and sign off our emails. Reading through the mountain of comments that the article attracted, I concluded that there is no universal way of either starting or ending emails that will not offend or upset someone. It seems that every single variation has its supporters and detractors.

For instance, some people say it is only common politeness to start an email with “Dear Fred” (assuming, of course, that it is Fred you are emailing). Others say that that is an archaic and irrelevant hangover from letter-writing, and someone else even thought that that form suggested an intimacy that may be inappropriate. Likewise with ending emails: some people like to sign off with “Cheers”, whereas others (including me) loathe that word in that context.

I have concluded that there is no generally accepted manner of either opening or closing emails, so I will carry on as I have always done – which is to adjust my wording slightly depending on the situation and to stick with forms that do not make me squirm with embarrassment if I see them again two weeks later.

……. and, finally

If you would like to re-visit any of my newsletters/blog posts (they are the same thing, the newsletter being the emailed version of new blog posts), the easiest way to find what you are looking for is to look at the sitemap on my website. Just scroll down the page to the “Posts” section, where the links are listed with the title and publication date (in chronological order).

The Compromise of the Jpeg Format

As mentioned in the digital formats blog last week, each time you edit and save a jpeg file a process takes place that aims to reduce the size of the resulting file. This entails making some approximations about the content (the colour) of some pixels. Repeatedly saving a jpeg file will, therefore, degrade its quality.

Whenever you save a jpeg file, most programs will offer you a choice as to the trade-off you would like to make between the size and the quality of the file you are going to create. In the illustration here, I am choosing to save the best quality file, but it will be the largest. I could change my choice by moving the slider, entering a different number, or choosing a quality other than “maximum”. This illustration is from the Photoshop program. Different programs offer variations on this, but the result is always that you are making a choice between quality and size of file.

Jpeg quality versus file size

Note: merely viewing your jpegs (as opposed to editing and then saving them) will NOT degrade the image. And neither will time! Real, hard copy photographs do degenerate over time as chemical processes take their toll. Digital images on your computer will not suffer this fate.

 

Images as Email Attachments

If you are intending to send an image file as an attachment to an email then size matters. An image of acceptable quality saved as a jpeg could be 200kb or smaller, whereas the tif equivalent could be 20mb. The former would be perfectly acceptable as an email attachment, whereas the latter may not be delivered. As far as emailing jpegs is concerned, you can almost always save the jpeg at its highest quality and still have a file that will comfortably go through the email system. You can see in the first illustration that the file I am saving here would be 153.0k. This would be perfectly acceptable as an email attachment.

Quick reminder on file sizes: there are approx 1000kb in 1mb (one thousand kilobytes in a megabyte). An email attachment can be 5mb without causing problems and some email systems can handle attachments up to 20mb. Therefore, any file size that is expressed in kb (and is less than 5000kb) is less than 5mb. Therefore, any file size expressed in kb (provided that it is less than 5000kb) will be ok to send by email.

The Best of Both Worlds

If you only intend to edit a photograph once or twice then it’s probably OK (quality-wise) to save it each time as a jpeg. The quality will remain acceptable and it won’t cause problems by being too large. If, on the other hand, you are going to do a lot of editing, spread over several sessions, then it is worth getting to grips with how you can save an image in a “lossless” format such as tif or bmp, so that it doesn’t degrade each time you save it. When you have finished editing it you can save the final version as a jpeg so that you then get the benefit of compressing it without all the intervening stages of degradation. If you do this, by the way, you will finish by having a file in each of the jpeg format and the “lossless” format.

Whatever program you are using to edit your pictures, the way to save an image file in a different format is to find the command to “save as” (as opposed to the “save” command) and then look for an option to allow you to change the format. This illustration is from Photoshop:

Saving a file in a different format

In this instance, clicking on the triangle to the right of the “Format:” line offers many options for saving the file in a different format, including tif. When you have finished all the editing and want to create a final, smaller, jpeg file then just issue the “save as” command again and choose jpeg as the final format.

Zipping Image Files

Files can usually be compressed into smaller sizes by putting them into zip files (or other compressed formats such as rar). These can then be sent more easily through the email system. Zipping also has the advantage that only one file is sent, so it is easier to handle than trying to attach, say, 20 photograph files. The recipient then “unzips” the file back into its original components.

There is no reason why you cannot put jpeg files into zip files, but you won’t save much space. The jpeg has already been optimised, so the process of “zipping” it won’t squash it much more – if at all. Zipping “lossless” files (such as tif files) will reduce the overall size considerably and won’t compromise the quality of the image.

Having said all that, there are now many alternatives for showing other people your digital photographs that don’t involve trying to send them through the email system, so if you regularly send lots of images it’s worth considering them. These alternatives include posting images on your social media page (eg Facebook), storing them online on Microsoft’s Skydrive system or Kodak’s online photograph album system, or even creating your own photo website.

There are lots of other aspects of digital images that we could look at, so I think we will be returning to this subject before very long.

In the meantime, you can find more information on jpegs here.

There are two main ways that a digital file can store information about an image:

Vector images are made up of independent objects (eg circles, arcs, squares). Each of these objects is defined in terms of mathematical relationships and instructions as to how to create it. A square, for example, is defined by where it is placed on the image, the length of a side in relation to the size of the entire image, the thickness and colour of the defining edges and so forth. This sounds complicated when explained in words but, in fact, the size of images made up of vector shapes is typically much smaller than an equivalent bitmap file (see below). This is because it is not the image itself that is stored – just the instructions necessary to re-create it.

Zombie - created as a vector graphicThe other main feature of a vector graphic (or image) is that it is “resolution-independent”. If you print a vector image the size of a postage stamp, its sharpness will be the same as if you printed it to fill a whole A4 page. Vector graphics are used in situations such as computer-aided design where images are made up of individually created elements and where sharpness and clarity at large sizes are important. Unfortunately, vector graphics won’t work for us in a lot of situations because the image (eg a photograph) can not easily be broken down into objects that can be defined geometrically and mathematically.

The image of the zombie was created as a vector image (source).


Bitmaps or raster images
are the more familiar format of graphics file for most people. In a bitmap file the image is composed of thousands or millions of individually coloured rectangles or dots, each of which is a single colour. These are called “pixels” (a contraction of “picture elements”). Pixels can be seen in the enlarged section of Tate Modern on the bitmap here.

Bimap image showing pixels

There may be a choice of up to 16,777,216 colours available for each pixel. So, if you imagine a grid of 3000 pixels in one direction and 2000 pixels in the other, in which each pixel could be one of 16,777,216 colours, you are imagining what a bitmap image looks like. In this case, there would be 6 million pixels (3000 X 2000), so this is would be a “6 mega-pixel” image.

The problem with bitmap images is that they can be large – very very large – in terms of the space they take to store. It takes an awful lot of zeroes and ones to define 6,000,000 pixels when each pixel can be one of 16 million colours.

So, we can now say that the smaller, resolution-independent, type of image (ie the vector graphic) isn’t going to be any good to us if our images are, in fact, photographs (or anything else that can not be broken down into individual geometric “objects”). Therefore, we are usually going to be using bitmap (raster) images. This means that we are going to have to struggle with the play-off between the size of file that we create and the quality of the final image. It is largely to achieve the best compromise in this play-off that there exist several types of bitmap image:

Tif (or tiff) files tend to produce very large files because all of the information in each pixel is always retained (this is known as a “lossless” image type). This has advantages for quality but disadvantages for file size. It is often the preferred file format for people creating and editing images (including photographs) using photo editing software such as Photoshop.

Gif and png files (pronounced “gif” or “jif” and “pee en gee” respectively) are graphics formats producing very small files. They are mainly used for images on web pages. The small file size is achieved by reducing the number of different colours in the image to the minimum necessary to create that image at an acceptable quality.

Jpg or jpeg files (pronounced “jay peg”) are the most favoured for finished photographs. Almost all digital cameras will create jpg files (although a lot will also create other formats). The advantage is that the file is compressed to be smaller. The price to be paid for this is that some loss of information (which translates into picture quality) will occur. This probably won’t be too serious to begin with, but if you repeatedly edit and save a jpg image then the quality will continue to degrade.

Raw is a “lossless” format produced by many digital cameras. However, there are lots of flavors of raw images so you may need the software provided with the camera to handle them.

Bmp (bitmap) is a Windows specification of a lossless file. Bmp files can be large but they have the advantage that they can be handled by almost all programs that need to deal with image files . And, yes, we do now have two different uses of the word “bitmap”. It is used synonymously with “raster” (as distinct from vector images) and is also used as the name of a specific Windows file format.

Apart from the image itself, most image files can also carry other information (called “exif” information or “metadata”) that can be used and displayed by image-handling programs. This can include, for example, the camera type, exposure information, date and time of exposure, and – somewhat controversially – the exact geographical location where the photograph was taken (known as “geotagging“).

Although I’ve tried to keep this simple, we’ve only scratched the surface (ha-ha) of digital photography by just looking at how digital images are composed and the main formats of files. Next time, I will look in more detail at jpgs as these are initially the most commonly encountered files in digital photography.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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