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Create great graphics with Paint.NET 4.0

One of the things I like to do besides repairing computers is creating graphics. Over the years I have used many different image editing programs, including Photoshop and CorelDraw. Recently, one of my favorite freeware image editing programs, Paint.NET, released a new version. Let's take a look at what's new in Paint.NET 4.0.

The improved user interface inside of Paint.NET 4.0
The improved user interface inside of Paint.NET 4.0

Paint.NET was originally created in 2004 to be a replacement for the Paint program that is included inside Windows, but has evolved into much more since then. It now includes such features as layers, effects, transparency, blending and best of all, plugins. With hundreds of plugins available, you can really expand on the out-of-the-box graphic capabilities of Paint.NET. Since I have a digital camera that will take photos in RAW format, I found a plugin that opens that type of file. I also use Photoshop and have found a plugin to open those files too.

Paint.NET 4.0 now has a brand-new rendering engine (asynchronous and fully multi-threaded) and supports hardware acceleration via the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). Selections are now anti-aliased and selected outlines are rendered with 'dancing ants' animation, greatly improving the contrast between selection and image. And the user interface has also been revamped to include a Settings dialog box for easier configuration.

The new Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4.0
The new Settings dialog box inside of Paint.NET 4.0

Now the only down side to Paint.NET 4.0 is the system requirements. Since this version of Paint.NET is built with the .NET Framework 4.5, it will only run on Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1. It does not run on Windows Vista or Windows RT. Here are the complete system requirements:

  • Windows 7 SP1 or newer is now required.
  • .NET Framework 4.5 is now required, and will be installed if needed.
  • A dual-core (or more!) processor is highly recommended.
  • Hardware acceleration (GPU) via Direct2D is now supported.

For more information on Paint.NET, just follow the links below:

Get Paint 4.0
What's new in Paint.NET 4.0

How to create the Windows 8.1 user group of tiles on the Start screen

With the release of the Windows 8.1 Update, all new users have a new group of tiles on the Start screen: This PC (My Computer), PC Settings, Documents (My Documents) and Pictures (My Pictures). If you're a Windows 8.1 existing user or still running Windows 8, you will not see these added to your established Start screen, only new profiles get these. Windows RT users only get the PC Settings tile. Here's how to create the Windows 8.1 user group of tiles on the Start screen.

  1. On the Start screen, left-click on Desktop.
  2. Left-click on File Explorer on the Taskbar.
    Pinning This PC to the Windows 8 Start screen
  3. Right-click on This PC and left-click on Pin to Start in the context menu.
  4. Right-click on Documents and left-click on Pin to Start in the context menu.
  5. Right-click on Pictures and left-click on Pin to Start in the context menu.
  6. Left-click on the Start button or press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key to bring up the Start screen.
    Pinning PC Settings to the Windows 8 Start screen
  7. Bring up the search charm: Windows 8 - Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + F or bring up the Charms bar and select Search. Windows 8.1 - Left-click on the Search button.
  8. In the Search box type PC Settings. In the search results, right-click on PC Settings and select Pin to Start.

Inside the Windows 8.1 Update

Microsoft recently released the Windows 8.1 Update (actual name), the latest refinement of Windows 8.1. Most the changes are targeted at keyboard / mouse users, like me. The update comes only months (10/17/13) after the initial release of Windows 8.1 and includes user interface enhancements and security fixes. Here's a look inside the Windows 8.1. Update.

The update builds on the previous Windows 8.1 changes geared towards keyboard / mouse users: the return of the Start button, smaller tile size on the Start screen and booting directly to the Desktop. But the overall focus was still towards touch sensitive devices. The Windows 8.1 Update changes all of that.

The first thing you'll notice is the default behavior of Windows 8.1 has changed. Windows 8.1 now checks to see if there is a touch sensitive display attached to the computer and modifies the way it runs. For example, if your computer doesn't not have a touch screen, the default programs that open pictures, videos and music files go back to the familiar Desktop apps that Windows 7 used. Here's a complete list of the changes to Windows 8.1 behavior:

Windows 8.1 defaults before update Windows 8.1 defaults after update
  • Boots to Start Screen
  • Closing App takes user back to Start Screen
  • Pictures, Music and Video files open with Modern App
  • Boots to Desktop
  • Closing App takes user to the previously used App.
  • After closing all Apps the user ends in the Desktop
  • Pictures, Music and Video files open with Desktop applications

New Windows 8.1 Update Start screen features
New Windows 8.1 Update Start screen features

The Start screen has also seen some Desktop friendly revisions too. Microsoft has finally added a Power button, so you no longer have to log-off to turn off or restart your computer. Also added are familiar Desktop style content menus for the Tile properties. There are also a new set of tiles that are added for new users; This PC, PC Settings, Documents and Pictures. They won't appear for existing users, but can easily be recreated if you want them.

New Metro app Title Bar with Minimize and Close buttons
New Metro app Title Bar with Minimize and Close buttons

Microsoft also made some changes to the Metro (Windows RT) interface too. In an effort to make it more Desktop friendly, Metro apps now have a drop-down Title Bar on top, similar to Desktop programs, with Minimize and Close buttons. Also, Metro apps can now be pinned to the Taskbar (the Store is automatically pinned with the update).

For more information on the Windows 8.1 Update, just follow the link below.

Exploring Windows 8.1 Update

How to move from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

The end of life for Windows XP has been and still is a major headache for consumers. You've got your old computer set up just the way you like it and its running fine. But there comes a time when you need to move to a newer and more secure operating system. Here's a couple of ways to move from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1.

A screen shot of the website AmIRunningXP.com
A screen shot of the website AmIRunningXP.com

Upgrade the operating system on your existing computer

The biggest problem with this scenario is that there is no way to do an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. First is the different partition, folder and file architecture. Second is that the majority of Windows XP installations in-use are 32-bit. All most all versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 / 8.1 in use are 64-bit. You can still get 32-bit versions of them, but with the 4GB memory limit, they are not very popular. If your computer was built within the last 5-7 years, it may be compatible with Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1.

Windows 7 / Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 hardware requirements:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
  • Free hard drive space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver

How to upgrade your existing computer from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

  1. Download the Windows Upgrade Assistant to check to see if the hardware in your existing system meets the minimum hardware requirements.
    Windows Upgrade Assistant
  2. Check to see if your existing software will run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. Some software may not run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1, so checking now may prevent some frustration later down the road.
    Windows Compatibility Center
  3. Check your existing hard drive for errors.
    Detecting and repairing disk errors in Windows XP
  4. Defragment your existing hard drive.
    Using Disk Defragmenter in Windows XP
  5. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  6. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or the latest version (Windows 7) of Windows Easy Transfer. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP
    Windows Easy Transfer
  7. Perform a clean installation of Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, erasing the existing partition(s)
  8. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  9. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  10. Install all of the programs you had installed on your previous version of Windows. This way when you transfer your documents and settings the file associations for your documents will be already set up.
  11. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or run Windows Easy Transfer built-in to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP

Migrate from your old computer to a new computer

This, by far, is the easiest way to go. Only problem might be if your existing programs are not compatible with the version of Windows on your new computer. If you find that a program won't run right out of the box, you may be able to run it in 'Compatibility Mode' for another version of Windows.

How to migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 8.1

  1. Download the Windows Upgrade Assistant to check to see if the hardware attached to your existing system meets the minimum hardware requirements.
    Windows Upgrade Assistant
  2. Check to see if your existing software will run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. Some software may not run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 / 8.1. Checking now may prevent some frustration later down the road.
    Windows Compatibility Center
  3. Do a complete backup of your existing computer to an external hard drive or network drive.
    Using Backup in Windows XP
  4. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or the latest version (Windows 7) of Windows Easy Transfer. Transfer all of the users' documents and settings to an external hard drive or network drive.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP
    Windows Easy Transfer
  5. Set up your new user account(s) with the same name(s) as your old user account(s).
  6. Attach your hardware (printers, scanners, etc.). To get the full functionality of your devices, you may have to install the manufacturer's software.
  7. In install all of the programs you had installed on your previous version of Windows. This way when you transfer your documents and settings, the file associations for your documents will be already set up.
  8. Download and install PCmover Express for Windows XP or run Windows Easy Transfer built-in to your new version of Windows.
    PCmover Express for Windows XP

Also, here's a series of articles I wrote a few years ago on my personal experience upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 1)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 2 - Drive Imaging)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 3 - Hardware / Software Inventory)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 4 - Windows 7 Installation)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 5 - Applications and Settings)
Upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Part 6 - Epilogue)

How to use layered security to protect your computer

It seems whenever I tell someone that I repair computers for a living, I almost always get asked the question "What do you recommend for anti-virus software?". I tell them that I use a layered approach to security, not relying on just one program for protection. I personally don't like to use all-in-one security suites. It's not that I don't trust any particular software; I just don't like having just one piece of software protecting my computer. Here's how to use layered security to protect your computer.

Protecting your computer with layered security
Protecting your computer with layered security

Software firewall

Windows has had a pretty good firewall built-in since Windows Vista and it's turned on by default. It comes pre-installed inside of Windows and is ready to go. There are also some great stand-alone programs like ZoneAlarm. This is also one of those additional features of all-in-one security software. It's your choice.

Anti-virus software

This one is a no brainer. There are plenty of free and retail anti-virus programs on the market, and I have used quite few different ones over the years. Some internet service providers like Cox Communications even offer free security suite software. The only thing to keep in mind when picking an anti-virus program is the performance of the system you're installing it on. I would not install a full-blown security suite like Norton or McAfee on a tablet or netbook.

Anti-malware / anti-spyware software

Anti-virus software normally looks for, you guessed it, viruses. I've cleaned out quite a few pieces of ransomware that anti-virus programs missed because it wasn't a virus. Quite a few of anti-malware programs are meant to be run side-by-side with anti-virus software. But there are a couple of exceptions to this rule: McAfee software doesn't like to work with Malwarebytes Anti-malware, but it can. And never install Microsoft Security Essentials along with SuperAnti-Spyware, as they are completely incompatible. It's a long story, but basically they are the same program.

Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET)

EMET actuality works as a shim between programs and the operating system. It looks for known patterns of attack and can prevent programs from getting access to the operating system. It can prevent a hacker from using security holes in programs until the developer issues an update. Just configure EMET to monitor any program that can access the Internet. I've seen it work first hand (rouge flash inside of browser) and it does what it's meant to do.

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Geeks in Phoenix
4722 East Monte Vista Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

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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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