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Creating web apps and websites for free with Microsoft Web Platform

Have you ever wondered how to create a blog, content management system (CMS) or e-commerce website? You can do just that and more with Microsoft Web Platform. You can create your own web app using WordPress (blog), DotNetNuke (CMS) or nopCommerce (e-commerce), just to name a few. And, best of all, it's all free.

Microsoft Web Platform Installer 3 - Spotlight View
Microsoft Web Platform Installer 3 - Spotlight View

From web server (Internet Information Services), database server (SQL Server 2010 Express), programming tools like (Visual Web Developer 2010 Express) and lots of apps to work with, Microsoft Web Platform has it all. And did I mention that they are all free.

Microsoft Web Platform Installer 3 - Products View
Microsoft Web Platform Installer 3 - Products View

You can use Visual Web Developer 2010 Express to customize any of the free ASP.NET and PHP web apps available in the Windows Web App Gallery. And if your app needs a database, you can install SQL Server 2010 Express. There are also tools for Silverlight and Windows Azure too.

Microsoft Web Platform Installer 3 - Applications View
Microsoft Web Platform Installer 3 - Applications View

All of the programs included in the Microsoft Web Platform are installed on your local system. You build and test your web app on the Internet Information Services (IIS) installed on your local system and then upload it to your remote IIS server when you're finished. If you don't know the platform of your web server, you will need to contact your hosting company to find out. The IIS is more commonly referred to as the Windows platform.

Here's a quote about the Microsoft Web Platform Installer and some of the programs available from the Microsoft site:

The Microsoft Web Platform Installer 3.0 (Web PI) is a free tool that makes getting the latest components of the Microsoft Web Platform, including Internet Information Services (IIS), SQL Server Express, .NET Framework and Visual Web Developer easy. The Web PI also makes it easy to install and run the most popular free web applications for blogging, content management and more with the built-in Windows Web Application Gallery.

Web Server
Install the latest version of IIS, including latest IIS Web extensions like IIS Media Services.

Install the latest version of the .NET Framework. This includes everything you need to work with ASP.NET.

Install the latest version of SQL Server 2008 Express. This includes both the database engine and tools.

Install the latest version of Visual Web Developer Express, Our full featured free web development tool.

Web Apps
Install free popular ASP.NET and PHP web apps such as Umbraco and WordPress. Browse the Windows Web Application Gallery

Web PI also includes the latest community version of PHP for Windows and a trial version of Expression Web 3!

For more information on the Microsoft Web Platform, check out the following links:

Microsoft Web Platform
Microsoft Web Platform Installer 5.0
Windows Web App Gallery

My favorite left hand Windows keyboard shortcuts

One of the most useful items I use on a daily basis are keyboard shortcuts. Especially shortcuts that I can perform with just my left hand, allowing me to keep my right hand on the mouse. You can use keyboard shortcuts to open frequently used files, folders and programs like Windows Explorer. Windows has a ton of built-in keyboard shortcuts (see links at bottom of article), plus you can create your own custom keyboard shortcuts. Here are my favorite left hand keyboard shortcuts:

Left hand Windows keyboard shortcuts
Press To
Windows logo key + E Open My Computer / Windows Explorer
Windows logo key + R Open the Run dialog box
Windows logo key + D Display the desktop
Windows logo key + F Search for a file or folder
CTRL + A Select all
CTRL + X Cut
CTRL + C Copy
CTRL+ V Paste
CTRL + ALT + (KEY) Custom keyboard shortcut (see below)

create your own Windows keyboard shortcuts

You can create keyboard shortcuts that use CTRL + ALT + (your choice of key) for frequently used files, folders and programs. You will need to have a shortcut to the file, folder or program you want to open first. You can use an existing shortcut (on your desktop or on the Start menu) or create a new one. Once you have a shortcut:

  1. Right-click on the shortcut
  2. From the context menu click Properties
  3. On the Properties box select the Shortcut tab
    The shortcut key box inside of a Windows shortcut
  4. Click inside the Shortcut key box and press the key in which you want to combine with CTRL + ALT

You can not use the following keys for keyboard shortcuts: ESC, ENTER, TAB, SPACEBAR, PRINT SCREEN, SHIFT, or BACKSPACE

For more information on Windows keyboard shortcuts, just follow the links below:

Windows logo key keyboard shortcuts
General keyboard shortcuts
Natural keyboard shortcuts
Dialog box keyboard shortcuts
Accessibility keyboard shortcuts
Windows explorer keyboard shortcuts

Stitching panoramic images for the web with Microsoft Research HD View

A while back. I wrote an article about creating panoramic images with Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) and Photosynth. With ICE and Photosynth, you can create panoramic images and then upload them to the Photosynth website. But what if you wanted to upload them to your website? That's where HD View comes into the picture.

Microsoft Research HD View is a new viewer to help in displaying large images (gigapixels) across the internet. It allows you to create panoramic images for web pages that do not take a lot of bandwidth. When someone views the image, they are only downloading what is required for that view. It is only when they pan or zoom, that more of the image is downloaded. HD View / Deep Zoom is now included in ICE, also as a stand-alone command line utility and (here's the best), a Photoshop plug-in.

HD View / Deep Zoom export in Microsoft Image Composite Editor
HD View / Deep Zoom export in Microsoft Image Composite Editor

HD View / Deep Zoom export in Photoshop plug-in
HD View / Deep Zoom export in Photoshop plug-in

So if you're a Photoshop user, you can now export those panoramic images that Photoshop can create directly to HD View / Deep Zoom format. The Photoshop plug-in is available in both 32-bit and 64-bit. Here's a quote from the HD View website:

About HD View
HD View is a new viewer developed by Microsoft Research's Interactive Visual Media group to aid in the display and interaction with very large images. The HDView development team included Johannes Kopf, Matt Uyttendaele, Howard Good, and Michael Cohen along with Jonathan Fay of the Next Media group.

Recent advances in camera and sensor technology and software for stitching images together has led to the creation of images containing billions of pixels (gigapixels). These images are often panoramic, that is, they cover very wide fields of view. Since monitors typically contain only one to two million pixels, it is only possible to actually see 1/1000th of such image data at once. Also, viewing very wide fields of view require unwrapping of an image projected onto a curved surface (think of a map of the world) which can cause distortions.

HD View leverages current graphics hardware to allow smooth panning and zooming as well as the viewing transformation described below.

HD View was developed with a number of goals in mind. It should:

  • allow smooth panning and zooming on large images,
  • only download enough data to create the current view (and possibly look ahead to the next), and
  • always display the current field of view with an appropriate projection. This means that when zoomed way in you should be presented with a standard perspective projection providing a sense of immersion, and when zoomed out you experience a curved projection so that get a full overview of the scene. In between the projection should smoothly transition.
  • Finally, it should be easy to create your own HD View content and present it to the world via the web.

The HD View plugin currently supports all major browsers on the Windows platform. The first time that you visit a page with HD View content you will be prompted to install the HD View plugin.

For more information on HD View / Deep Zoom, just follow the links below:

Microsoft Research HD View / Deep Zoom
HD View Utilities (32 bit) - Microsoft Research
HD View Utilities (64 bit) - Microsoft Research

Be more productive in your office for free with OpenOffice 3

A client recently asked me if I knew of any alternative to Microsoft Office. As a firm believer in open source software, I told him about 3 from Oracle. It is a complete office software suite with a word processor, spreadsheet, multi-media presentation, graphics and database programs. is Java based and requires it to be installed. It is compatible with other commercial office software and can read / write various file formats. XSLT and StarOffice formats are supported, but you will need to choose the custom installation to enable these filters. You can also expand the functionality of by using third party extensions. And you can also export to PDF in all of the applications. And best of all, it's free.

OpenOffice 3's Main Screen 3's main screen

Programs included in

Writer lets you design and produce text documents that can include graphics, tables, or charts. You can then save the documents in a variety of formats, including the standardized OpenDocument format (ODF), Microsoft Word .doc format, or HTML. And you can easily export your document to the Portable Document Format (PDF).

Calc is a spreadsheet application that you can use to calculate, analyze, and manage your data. You can also import and modify Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

Impress lets you create professional slide shows that can include charts, drawing objects, text, multimedia and a variety of other items. If you want, you can even import and modify Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.

Draw lets you create simple and complex drawings and export them in a number of common image formats. You can also insert tables, charts, formulas and other items created in programs into your drawings.

With Base, you can access data that is stored in a wide variety of database file formats. Base natively supports some flat file database formats, such as the dBASE format. You can also use Base to connect to external relational databases, such as databases from MySQL or Oracle.

Math provides numerous operators, functions and formatting assistants to help you create formulas. 3 is available for the Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. For more information on 3, please visit their website

My five favorite Windows tips for maintaining your computer

In this article, I am going to share my five favorite tips for maintaining Microsoft Windows.

  1. Checkdisk. This is the first thing I do when I get a system here in the shop. Errors do occur and files do get damaged. Best to take care of this first thing. And yes, this can take a while, so I always recommend leaving your system on and let Checkdisk run over night. That way your computer is ready to go first thing in the morning.

    For more information on how to perform a Checkdisk, just select your operating system below:
    Windows 7 / Windows Vista Checkdisk
    Windows XP Checkdisk

  2. Delete Temporary files. This is the first place to look when you need to free up some hard disk space. These files served their propose at one time, but for some unknown reason, the program that used them did not delete them. When deleting temporary files, some may be still in use. I recommend deleting all files / folders that are over a week old. See below for the location of temporary files folder on your version of Windows:

    Windows 7 / Vista - C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Temp
    Windows XP - C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Temp

  3. Delete the Internet Explorer cache. This is the second place to look when you need to free up some hard disk space. I have seen systems with over 9 Gb of temporary files. Open Internet Explorer and go to Tools > Internet Options and change the following settings:

    Internet Explorer Temporary Files
    Internet Explorer Temporary Files

  4. Pagefile optimization. This one often gets over looked. There is a formula for calculating the correct pagefile size. Minimum pagefile size is one and a half (1.5) x amount of memory. Maximum pagefile size is three (3) x minimum pagefile size. Say you have 4 Gb (4,096 Mb) of memory. 1.5 x 4,096 = 6,144 Mb would be the min. pagefile size and 3 x 6,144 = 18,432 Mb would be the max. pagefile size.

    Windows Pagefile Settings

    To change the pagefile size, you need to access the System Properties dialog box. Press Windows logo key + Pause (Windows 7 / Vista users select 'Advanced' system settings). Then select the 'Advanced' tab and under 'Performance' click on Settings. Then select the 'Advanced' tab and under 'Virtual memory' click on Change.

    For more information on how to change the pagefile size, just select your operating system below:
    Windows 7 Pagefile Settings
    Windows Vista Pagefile Settings
    Windows XP Pagefile Settings

  5. Disk Defragmenter. Probably the best single thing you can do to speed up your computer. Imagine a filing cabinet where all of the folders were out of order and files were misplaced through out the cabinet. How could you find anything? Same thing with your hard drive. Disk Defragmenter takes care of that for you. And you can run it as a scheduled task too.

    For more information on how to use Disk Defragmenter, just select your operating system below:
    Windows 7 Disk Defragmenter
    Windows Vista Disk Defragmenter
    Windows XP Disk Defragmenter

Give these five tips a try and see how much more performance you can get from your computer,

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

Geeks in Phoenix have the best computer repair technicians providing computer repair and service in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona. We offer In-Shop, On-Site and Remote (with stable Internet connection) computer repair service.

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