Ghacks T-Shirts, Leftovers For Christmas

It is the last day of the Ghacks Christmas Giveaway and when I look back I see great programs and lots of participation from old and new readers, and some that only come out at this time of the year.

I’m in a hurry which is why I will make this a short post before I take off and spend quality time with my family.

I’m giving away Ghacks T-Shirts today. I’m not sure how many yet, but it will be at least five of them shipped right to your doorstep.

You can check the t-shirts out here at the official store. If you want to win one of the shirts you need to replay here in the comment section. Make sure you leave a valid email address as I need to contact you for shipping information and size.

But that’s not all that you may get. Not all giveaway winners reply in time to grab their free software license. We have a few leftovers here that will be given away to commenters as well.

You basically have several chances to win something today. Good luck and merry Christmas everyone, I’m off for today.

Ghacks Editor Mike Halsey Now MVP

I’m happy to announce that Ghacks editor Mike Halsey is now a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP). The award is given out by Microsoft to “exceptional technical community leaders” since the early 90s to around 4000 users out of 100 million who participate in technology communities.

MVPs are independent experts who often get early access to Microsoft products and networking opportunities with Microsoft executives and peers worldwide.

In a statement on the official Microsoft MVP website, Microsoft states: “With the MVP Award, we thank these inspiring individuals for representing the voice of thousands in the community through the powerful and independent feedback they give us, and for helping our customers maximize the potential of their software”.

Mike became a regular editor at Ghacks in May 2010 and has since then published 200 articles here on the site. He is also writing for the Windows 7 blog that I run together with Everton of Connected Internet and has published the book Troubleshooting Windows 7 Inside Out at the end of last year.

microsoft mvp

Mike is now an MVP for the Windows Desktop Experience for the next twelve months which will not only further his career, knowledge and connections but also the articles here on Ghacks considering the deeper insight he will get in that time.

Congrats Mike on behalf of the Ghacks team, it is well deserved. Additional information about the award, and Mike’s profile page, are accessible on the official MVP website. Well done mate.

Why I love Arguments

One of these days, and I’ll try this eventually, I’m going to write an article called “Apple” which will contain just a single word, that word will again be “Apple”.  What will the reason be for doing this?  Simply because I know full well that some Apple fans will be up in arms and probably accuse me of being deliberately inflammatory about the company.

This is brilliant and it’s just like being back in school in the heady days of the home computing revolution.  Then I had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum and those of us who preferred squidgy keys and colour clash got terrible batterings, in more ways than just figuratively sometimes, from those people with Commodore 64s.

It was brilliant that technology got people so hot under the collar, but then we hit the late 80’s and everything became really dull and quiet.  In fact for a long period there was nothing to get excited about at all as the console revolution that we have today hadn’t started, and PCs were still far too expensive for people to have in their homes.  If you had an ageing Commodore Amiga or Atari ST you’d use that.  If not you were in a non-technical wilderness.

When technology became more affordable again, which began with consoles, it was Sony that not only ruled the roost, but that had the entire market to itself and so far as PCs went, nobody dared get all excited about the horrible beige box they were forced to keep hidden away.

Now though things are much more exciting.  We’ve got all types of smartphones with competing operating systems, tablet computers with even more competition when it comes to operating systems, and home PCs that are finally funky enough, and with an operating system good enough, that their owners can start shouting at the Mac people again saying they got ripped off.

I’m a PC guy, I have a media centre PC under my TV, a Windows Phone and two Windows-based computers.  I also now have a Windows 7 tablet on the way to me as well.  Why do I have exclusively Windows-branded stuff?  It’s certainly not for my job, as an author I could write perfectly well using Linux, as a tech blogger I could comment on all things Windows from a Mac and for my leisure I could be quite happy with an Android phone or an iPad.

We’re back in the same situation were were in during the mid-1980’s though when you find yourself, by hook or by crook, locked into a particular eco-system.  The reason I have all Windows stuff is that I need connectivity and for everything to work together in harmony.  It just so happens that this is the best way to achieve that.  This is in the same way that all my wireless networking kit is all from the same range and from the same company, it helps take the pain out of configuring it.

I have a good friend in London who has gone the other way.  He has a PC that I built for him but he never uses it.  He instead uses a Mac.  He’s also had an iPhone for a while and has bought an Apple TV and an iPad recently.  It’s all exactly the same kit that I have myself but, well, just different.  It will all work in exactly the same way as the kit I have here too.  Now I don’t believe for a single moment that his choices were anything to do with brand loyalty.  I know him well enough to say with confidence that his primary concern was that everything worked well together and that each device didn’t present him with a new, steep, learning curve.

It’s interesting the way this has panned out because we’re in a position now where the customers are once again doing much of the marketing and promotion work for the companies they buy from, just as my friends and I did in school singing the praises of Sinclair, Commodore and Acorn and even, once in a while, swinging someone else away from their own choice.

So occasionally I write things about Apple or Google but because people know me as a Windows guy I’ll get flamed for it.  I have to write this stuff though because it’s my job.  I love Apple and Google because, while I may not always agree with their business practices and products, they, like Microsoft have inspired a new generation of people to feel passionately about the technology that they buy and use.

What could be better then than a really good argument.

Lets Celebrate, We Received Our 1 Millionth Spam Comment

Blog spam, in the form of manual or automatic comments, trackbacks or pingbacks, has always been a problem for bloggers. It is just to lucrative to run a software that spams links all around in the hope that some will stick and benefit the site that they link to.

List of blogs that do not verify comments are traded on Internet marketing forums, services and websites. Webmasters fight a constant battle against spam. When I started Ghacks six years ago it was a small site, and I was able to verify all comments, trackbacks and pingbacks manually.

But a lot has changed since then. More and more tools that automate the commenting have been created, to the point that everyone can use them without problems. All that is needed is a big list of blogs that accept comments and that’s it.

Advanced spammers use proxy lists, virtual private networks, unique comments with variables (for instance the author’s name included or variations of phrases and words) and more to improve the chance that comments are accepted on spammed sites.

Ghacks today receives more than 900 spam comments per day. That still may not sound as much considering that other blogs may very well receive tens of thousands of comments per day. I moved from manually checking every comment to only checking comments sporadically, mainly because of time constraints.

Ghacks has received its 1 Millionth spam comment in this month, another blog milestone. Akismet did not record spam from the very beginning which means that the actual figure may indeed be a lot higher than the one reported. The one million mark has been reached in the last three years.

blog spam

I have tried a lot to reduce the amount of spam but have not found one reliable option to block spam before it reaches the blog. Tried a lot but nothing worked, or interfered with regular commenters who started reporting troubles.

Next to the one million spam comments are more than 79k legit comments, a ratio of 1:12.6 which I think is incredible.

Are you a webmaster? How do you cope with spam?

Competition: Win HTML5 Step by Step in Paperback

The web is moving towards HTML5 with all new browsers supporting the standard including Chrome, Firefox and the forthcoming Internet Explorer 9.  This new scripting language.  It adds new tags including AUDIOVIDEO and the CANVAS tag that can be used for creating effective animation and text effects.  The language now allows you to embed all of this including full screen video without the use of any plug-ins such as Flash.

Here at gHacks we’ve got a copy of HTML5 Step by Step by Microsoft Press to give away.  It doesn’t just cover HTML5 commands too, if you’re new to either HTML or CSS it will guide you through what you need to know to create engaging and interactive web pages.

html5 step by step

Teach yourself how to create Web pages with the HTML5 specification—one step at a time. This book provides hands-on guidance for using HTML5 markup to add video, offline capabilities, 2-D graphics, and more to your Web pages—without relying on plug-ins or other technologies.

Experience learning made easy—and quickly teach yourself how to create Web pages with the HTML5 specification. With Step by Step, you set the pace—building and practicing the skills you need, just when you need them!

  • Use a division-based layout to structure your Web pages
  • Include menu bars and hyperlinks for clear navigation
  • Apply colors, font sizes, and other formatting with CSS
  • Add graphics, sound, and video to your pages
  • Use the Canvas tag to render visual images on the fly
  • Build user-input forms with buttons, boxes, and menus

Your Step by Step digital content includes:

  • All the book’s practice files—ready to download and put to work. See “Using the Practice Files,” inside.
  • Fully searchable online edition of this book—with unlimited access on the Web. Free online account required; see inside book.

This is a simple competition too, all you need to do is the following.

  • Follow @Mike_Halsey on Twitter and Tweet about this competition
  • Don’t Tweet? You can also enter by following Mike on Facebook and putting a link to the competition there.

You can enter as many times as you like as long as you don’t spam people.

This competition will run until the end of Friday 25th February 2011 and the winner will be notifed by private message on Twitter or Facebook by Wednesday 2nd March 2011. Please allow 28 days (or so) for delivery of the paperback book. If you are the winner you will need to be able to provide your full mailing address (PO Boxes can’t be accepted, sorry).

Good luck to all, but there can only be one winner!

Blogging Lessons, 3 Years Later

My full time blogging career began back in December of 2007. Back then I wrote Full Time Blogging and My first 15 days as a Problogger which offered advice for webmasters who were blogging part time and not sure whether they should make the big leap forward to become full time bloggers.

More than three years have past and looking back, I can firmly say that this was the best decision of my life. It was not always easy and I’m still struggling at times. This post is about the good things, bad things, and advice that I would like to share.

Full time blogging is not for everyone. You are from that moment on responsible for your well being and that of your family. You need to get up and write. I write 365 days a year which may be an extreme case.

I learned to reduce my output at times to recover and gain strengths. Regular Ghacks reader may have noticed that I started to write less on weekends and holidays. Those are my recovery periods. I still write between one and four posts on these days, but the reduced output gives me time to concentrate on other things.

I have not been on a lot of holidays in the past three years, my trip to Israel and Vienna have been the two exceptions. I try to write and schedule articles in advance to enjoy those trips. Still, I have to spend at least an hour or so per day to check the blogs, websites, servers and emails.

I met lots of great people, fellow bloggers, entrepreneurs and companies, and even more charlatans and thieves. When I began blogging in 2005 I read all the posts of the self-proclaimed problogging gurus. This stopped when I realized that they had nothing to offer but self-promotion.

I started concentrating on the business aspects and learned a lot about SEO and business marketing at that time. It took me more than two years to get there, a process from noob to someone who knows what he is doing online, what works, and what does not.


Being a fulltime blogger has other implications. Bloggers can make money in two ways: Advertisement or writing content. If you have your own website you usually combine the two. Managing the advertisement side of business takes lots of time, especially if you have a blog with visitors from all over the world.

Advertising wise, you usually make use of Google Adsense, because it can deliver ads to a world wide audience. Banner advertisements on the other hand are usually limited to a few English speaking countries. Some companies use low paying ads for the rest of the world, the majority tends to ignore it.

Another advertising related problem is that you often get emails from new companies who want to sell your ad space. You know have the option to try them out to see if they perform better than your current company, or deny the proposal outright. If you try them out you may end up with a big dip in revenue if they perform not as well as your previous advertiser. It seldom happened that a new company outperformed my active advertisers. I suggest A-B tests for those cases which give you better comparison options.

Then there is the webmaster side of things. If you run your own sites, you are responsible for your websites and servers. You need to make sure that they are accessible, that the contents are up to date, that they load fast enough, that bills are paid, domain names renewed and so on.

It is possible to automate a few of the things. I’m working with a company that monitors my websites and servers 24/7. If anything that is monitored goes down, I get an SMS no matter where I’m. (see Monitor Your Servers With Livewatch).

But you cannot automate everything. I spend about 30 to 60 minutes per day for webmaster related tasks. Fix broken links, moderate comments, update scripts, make changes to pages, design or structure of the site, check web statistics and reply to users and companies who contacted me.

This can become a fulltime job on some days, for instance if a site goes down, if a site is moved to a new server or if I have made the decision to change a site’s theme (never change a running system).

You think that being a writer, webmaster and marketing expert is all that you need to be to be an independent full time blogger? Think again. Enter SEO.

Search engine optimization, love it or hate it. Still, it is one of the essential skills that you need. You could outsource your SEO, but believe me when I say that you will have a very, very, very, hard time finding a reliable SEO company that does your SEO for acceptable rates.

Don’t even think of hiring a SEO on a webmaster forum. If you frequent there you may have seen the packages that they offer. 20k visitors for $x, Mininets, 10,000 backlinks for $49, profile links, web 2.0 links, comment links, autoblogs, private blog networks and more.

The core problem with the majority of offers is that they can hurt the site’s rankings, besides that the majority of them rely on link building that many would call outright spam.

SEO is in my opinion the hardest part. If you do something wrong you can crash your site, get it banned in the search engines. If you want to do it right, you need to monitor every move which takes lots of time and effort on your part.

Without SEO on the other hand, your site won’t take off. Sure, you may get lucky and see an article of your site promoted on sites like Slashdot or Reddit, or constantly mentioned on popular blogs like Lifehacker. But that’s an exception, not the rule.

Traffic does not automatically come even if you have the best content about a certain topic. That’s where SEO comes into play, to get that content into the open, recognized.

You can do a lot of SEO groundwork on the site, onpage optimizations, good internal linking structure and so on, but you eventually come to a point where you need to add offsite SEO. If you can afford it hire a reputable SEO company. Most bloggers, including me, cannot afford that on the other hand as you have to pay thousands of Dollars usually per month for that.

One of the options that I want to explore in the coming months is guest blogging on other sites.

Lastly, as a blogger you are also dependent on others; Especially on search engines, referring sites and your visitors of course. Ghacks experienced two huge drops in traffic after recent Google algorithm changes. A false positive so to say but nevertheless extremely hurting. both financially and mentally. It was never that bad that I thought about quitting, but it was close. The site recovered each time after three months.

The lesson I learned from that? Diversify your traffic profile. Get a newsletter, a Facebook page, Twitter. Get the word out on sites like Reddit, Yahoo answers, become a brand that people know and trust. You cannot be dependent on one main source of traffic.

I would do a lot of things differently if I would have to start all over again starting with the domain name. Should have picked .com and not .net. It is not a major thing so.
Still, blogging is fun and while it is stressful at times it is also very rewarding. I can work from home, and every other place with an Internet connection.

The post has gotten a bit longer than I wanted it to become. I apologize for that. If you have any questions about blogging, or Ghacks let me know and I try my best to answer them.

Things To Do When You Are Tired, But Still Need To Work

It happens that I get tired in the late afternoons, so tired in fact that I’m hard pressed not to go to bed directly to sleep the sleep of the brave. This happens often after a restless night, or when I wake up too early.

The following list contains tips that help me stay awake in those situations. Remember that I work at home and that some may not be suitable for your situation.

Lets start with the things to do when you are tired and need to overcome that tiredness.

Take a nap

This sounds counter-productive at first, especially if you do not wake up after 20 minutes of power napping. I often lay down on the couch, close my eyes and try to relax. I’m pretty good at waking up at the time that I want to wake up, no need for setting the alarm. If you are a heavy sleeper you may need an alarm, or someone else waking you.

Sometimes I put on my headphones and listen to music, with eyes closed. The music gives me an understanding of the time that has passed since starting the nap.

Drink Coffee, Black Tea, Caffeine, Water

I do not drink coffee or other caffeine containing drinks after five in the afternoon though as I do not sleep well if I overdo it. If you do not care, you could get the much needed boost with a cup of hot coffee.

You may also feel tired because you are dehydrated. Try to drink enough water throughout the day to avoid this from happening.

Chewing Gum

I do not know why, but chewing gum helps me stay awake. Maybe it is because it stimulates face muscles, maybe it is because of something else. If you do not have caffeine around, you may want to try chewing gum instead.

Walk, preferably outside

A short walk, preferably outside, helps me stay awake as well. Sometimes I walk to the nearest market to buy chewing gum (haha). Walking in combination with fresh air and sunlight seems to push away the feeling of tiredness.

If you cannot leave, try tapping your feet or moving your body on the chair. Take a short break to go to the toilet. While there, get some cold water on your hands and face. You can also open a window and stick your head outside for a while to get some fresh air.

Eat something light

Light eating may also revive your body up to a point where you can get through the day without dozing off. Do not eat something with too much sugar though. Nuts, Vegetables like carrots, a wholemeal sandwich with cheese are all things that you can eat.

Talk to someone

If you have someone nearby, start talking to them for a couple minutes. If possible, get up and walk with them while doing the talking.

Turn up the lights, if light is dim

Working in half-darkness or full darkness is not only not good for the eyes, but it can make you sleepy as well. Make sure you work under excellent lighting conditions.

Open a window, change room temperature

You may want to open a window to get fresh air into the room. This can help if the room temperature appears to be to warm, especially if you do not have access to the heating system to adjust the temperature.

I know that this is not the usual article you find here at Ghacks, but please bear with me on this one. To make it better, let me know how you overcome tiredness!

gHacks Editor at Microsoft UK Tech.Days + Win a Tablet PC

It’s all go here at (as per usual) and just to show some of those other Windows, Microsoft and tech websites out there that they’re not all as impressive as they might think they are we’re doing more and more every week and bringing you bigger and better stuff.

For all of you Tech Pros in the UK I’ll be hosting some “Ask the Expert” sessions at Microsoft’s upcoming “Deploying and Managing the Modern Desktop” Tech.Day event in London (23rd May) at the request of Microsoft UK. You don’t get that from other tech websites!

Desktop technology has marched on: user needs and expectations are changing; the Internet is a different place to 10 years ago and we haven’t even mentioned virtualisation!

You need to think about your desktop and the infrastructure behind it. You need a modern desktop to easily take advantage of all of these technologies, and to enable your people to be productive long into the future. In this demo-filled day, we will look at how to weave technologies like Windows 7, Office 2010, the Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP), and desktop virtualisation technologies into a coherent sustainable, cost-reducing desktop strategy.

The day is split into four sessions. Modern Desktop, Deployment, Virtualisation and then a final session on Windows Server and Office 365. In addition there will be information on subjects including migrating from IE6 and application compatibility as well as introductions to some new Microsoft technologies including Lync, Office 365 and Windows InTune.

I’ll be in each session and available during intervals to answer questions from delegates on desktop, deployment and virtualisation and, of course, Troubleshooting!

I’ll be taking my camera too and grabbing people from Microsoft and other major players in the tech industry to ask them about all manner of subjects, and I’ll post all that back here next week. It should be an eciting day with a great deal to see and interesting people to meet.

exo pcWhat’s more the social event of Microsoft’s whole UK Tech.Days week will be our Geek Meet (Sun 22nd May, 8pm) which will be held this coming Sunday at the Bavarian Beerhouse in Tower Hill at 8pm. It’s open to everyone, people from Microsoft will be there to answer your questions and share a drink. What’s more we’ll be giving away £600 of tablet PC, courtesy of Exo PC. It’s very easy to win too, and I’ll also have a big stack of signed copies of my book to give away.

If you’re already booked to attend the Techdays then feel free to come and give me a poke on the day but if not and you’re anywhere near London then get yourself along to the Geek Meet. I’ll be the guy in the gHacks t-shirt doing some very social networking 🙂

On the night you will need to bring along a printout (or smartphone) showing you’ve subscribed for your chance to enter and win.

Software Developers: Host Your Files On Ghacks

I always wanted to go ahead with a download directory on Ghacks, but never had the time to ready the site for this. I have started hosting some files here on Ghacks, pre-dominantly software without a developer website. This is usually the case when a software gets released and the developer vanishes into anonymity after some time. The homepage goes offline eventually and it can be hard from this point on to find a working software download, and not only a download portal that links back to the – now defunct – developer homepage.

Here is my offer for software developers and users alike. If you have a software that you would like to be hosted on the Internet, you can do so here on Ghacks. Just send me the program and I will host it on my server. You can link to the download directly from your website if you like, or to a post here on Ghacks that reviews the application. A link back would in both cases be appreciated.

You can also contact me if you are not a developer but have software on your hard drive that is hard to find and without developer homepage. I upload the program to the repository here so that everyone can download it more easily.

All programs are tripple-checked with online and offline antivirus applications to make sure that they are clean and do not contain malicious code. I have created a temporary download page here on Ghacks. Plan is to beautify it a little bit, as it looks pretty awful at the moment.

Please note that Ghacks is not offering hosting for web pages, only for software downloads at this point in time. This might change as well if enough software developers show interest in this opportunity. For now, if you have coded a program but do not know where to upload it to, let me know about it.

I’d also like to point out that we cannot host certain type of files, including cracking or hacking related applications.

Use the contact form at the top of the page, or leave a comment in this thread to discuss this further.

gHacks Editor’s Tutorial Videos to go on Official Microsoft Support Website

Here at gHacks we pride ourselves on giving you the very best help and advice, and it seems that we’re not the only ones who think so.  After an approach by the company, Microsoft have now confirmed that they will be putting my tutorial videos for Windows 7 on the official Microsoft support website at

Additionally I will, at their request, be making more tutorial videos and providing how-to articles for their support site and for their TechNet newsletter which goes out to IT professionals.

The news has come about because of the publication of my first Microsoft Press book last year, Troubleshooting Windows 7 Inside Out, which became one of the publisher’s top 20 eBooks of 2010, despite only being released at the end of October, and has sat consistently in the top 2% of all paperback sales on Amazon since then.

tutorial videos

Personally I find it quite an honour that Microsoft consider my help, support and tutorial materials and videos to be of a high enough quality to be part of the official Microsoft support website.  I know this sounds a bit glib coming from the author of a Windows 7 Troubleshooting book that was published by Microsoft Press, but it really came as a very pleasant surprise that came out of the blue, and I’m genuinely thrilled.

The first five videos to go on the Microsoft website, about the Automated Troubleshooters, reading the Event Viewer, using the (oh so carefully hidden) System File Checker, the very useful Windows Startup Repair and finally how you can manually Repair Corrupt Boot Files were originally made to help promote the book.  Future videos will be made in collaboration with Microsoft and will focus on the things Windows users have the most difficulty with.  The next videos will appear by the end of this month.

There’s also more exciting news coming in the next month or so, but at the moment I’m sworn to secrecy (and quite frankly it’s driving me nuts!) but you’ll be the first to hear, believe me.

You can watch the first five videos on my YouTube page and get the latest news on additional videos for the Microsoft website on my new Facebook page.