Customizing the Text ScreenSaver with Group Policy

“Customizing screensavers?” I hear you cry, “That’s a bit retro isn’t it?”

Nowadays screensavers have more or less disappeared. It makes much more sense to just turn off the screen after 10 minutes of inactivity. However, there are some instances where a screensaver can be useful, for example, an always-on kiosk or even digital signage.

One of the more useful standard screensavers in the Windows operating system is called “3D Text”. Useful because by default it will display the time but can be customized to display some text instead

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Excel Tip: Apply Conditional Formatting to the whole row

Conditional Formatting Menu in Excel 2013

One of the Microsoft Excel features I use quite a bit is Conditional Formatting. This is the feature (introduced in Excel 2007) that lets you re-colour a cell in your worksheet depending on the criteria you specify, e.g. highlight any cells containing the word “Server 2003” in red.

The problem I was having was that I wanted the whole row to be highlighted, not just the particular record. It turns out this is fairly easy to do, even though it looks a bit difficult.

Step 1 – Create a new rule

  • The easiest way to start is to select one cell containing the text you want to highlight
  • Click the conditional formatting button on the toolbar and go to Highlight Cell Rules > Text that contains…
  • Format the text how you like, e.g. Light Red Fill with Dark Red Text
  • Click OK

You should now have one cell in your spreadsheet that is formatted how you want

Step 2 – Apply rule to the whole table

  • Click the conditional formatting button on the toolbar and go to Manage Rules…
  • You will see your new rule listed but the Applies to box will only reference one cell e.g. ‘ =$B$2
  • Change the text in the Applies to box to refer to the whole table e.g. ‘ =$A$1:$H$100 ‘
  • Click the Apply button

Now that rule will highlight any matching text in the entire table, not just one cell

Continue reading Excel Tip: Apply Conditional Formatting to the whole row

Easily access all bookmarks in Google Chrome

I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like any major browsers have got their bookmarks/favourites features quite right. One thing I dislike about Google Chrome is when you use the omnibox it favours search results over bookmarks.

Luckily, to make searching them easier, you can give yourself one-click access to Chrome’s bookmark manager by adding this link to your Bookmark bar

chrome://bookmarks/#2

Screenshot of my Google Chrome bookmark manager shortcut

Continue reading Easily access all bookmarks in Google Chrome

Windows 8 Tip – Restoring the old style Start Menu

Windows 8 has shown a dramatic change to the Windows Start Menu, in fact, it has been renamed to the Start Screen and it is the first thing you see when you log on to Windows.

The basic idea of this is to a) improve the touch experience on Windows Tablets/Slates and b) merge the usefulness of Windows Vista-era gadgets with the low resource usage of Windows Phone Live Tiles. You can read loads more about the changes on Microsoft’s official Building Windows 8 blog.

Unfortunately, this is slightly jarring for everybody used to the old way of working. Many people have blogged ways to hack the OS to bring back the old Start menu or install new software to provide an equivalent menu. I personally love the changes and certainly don’t want to hack or install unnecessary apps on a my operating system. The problem is, due to the lack of “metro” style immersive apps, or problems with the Start Screen loading on unsupported hardware (e.g. graphics cards), it can be handy to have something similar to the Start Menu present.

A very simple way to do this is by using a feature available since the taskbar debuted in Windows 95!

  • Right-click the taskbar
  • Select Toolbars > New Toolbar…
  • Point it to “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”

There you have it, a zero maintenance, familiar Start Menu sitting happily side by side with the Start Screen.

You may want to check out my related article Windows 8 will be Great on a Slate but is it too Late?

Update

You may notice that the solution above only shows the main (All Users) Start Menu. However, thanks to the comment from Michael below, there is a couple of ways to include your personal Start Menu as well.

Option 1 (via Michael)  is to create a custom library that includes both Start Menu locations and then point your custom toolbar to the location of that library.

Open up This PC (i.e. Windows Explorer) and create a new library called Start. The Library needs to include the following two folders

  • Personal Start Menu > “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”
  • All Users Start Menu > “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”

As above create a custom toolbar on the taskbar. The custom toolbar should point to the following location %UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Libraries\Start.library-ms

This gives you a “Start” toolbar that shows 2 “Programs” subfolders that will expand out to the relevant folders. One small issue is that there is no way to differentiate which folder is which so this can be a bit confusing

Dual Folder Start Menu

Option 2 is a slightly neater way. Open of the following locations in Windows Explorer

  • Personal Start Menu > “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”
  • All Users Start Menu > “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”

On the window with the All Users start menu, drag the “folder” icon in the address bar over to the window with the Personal start menu and drop it below the other shortcuts. This effectively creates a new shortcut in the personal start menu. Rename the shortcut to something more descriptive, like “.All Users”. Renaming the shortcut with a ‘.’ [period] at the front allows it to jump to the top of the menu.

Now,  when you add the custom toolbar, point it to “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”. As you can see from the screenshot, you get one menu with the All Users shortcut opening up like any other folder.

Single Programs folder Start Menu

Ultimatley the preference is yours, whether you want one menu, two or maybe none at all!

Bypass compulsory website registration with a shared password

Bug me not screenshot This was an interesting find » Bugmenot.com – login with these free web passwords to bypass compulsory registration.

Many a time I have been pained at the thought of going through another registration process just to see a quick bit of info. This site offers you usernames & passwords for dummy accounts on websites to let you log into a multitude of places. Bear in mind, these aren’t stolen credentials, they are just accounts that others have created and shared for anyone to use.

Simply type in the domain you are trying to access and you will get a list of usernames and passwords as well as success rates of whether they work or not. Be careful though, the password should be readable in plain text not **** or the common “click Yes to see password”. This is a way people are trying to mess with the voting system.

ProTip: Middle click to close tab and even apps

A couple of months ago I found out that I can use the mouse-wheel button (i.e. middle-click) to close tabs in web browsers. This is much easier, thanks to the larger surface area, than trying to hit the little “x” that is on most tabs. It works for other things than browsers too, like Notepad++ or tabbed conversations in IM clients. This got me wondering the other day when I was overcrowded by tabs in Internet Explorer 9’s taskbar thumbnail previews (see pic). I hovered over one I didn’t want open, gave it a middle click, and hey presto the tab closed! This works for any thumbnail preview, not just IE9. It surprising what a boost in productivity this gives so try it out today!thumb-preview

 

Screenshot of Refresh button in Google ChromeUpdate: I recently found out that Chrome & Firefox also let you middle-click the refresh button. This duplicates the curent page to a new tab. At first I didn’t think that was particularly useful but now I find I’m needing it all the time. It is especially useful if you accidentally navigate away from a page, like when you type in a search term to the address bar and hit Enter instead of CTRL+Enter. Now you can middle-click Refresh so you keep the search open in a new tab but can also navigate back to the previous page you were looking at in the current tab.

Using Saved Queries to filter Active Directory Users and Computers

imageJust a quick article here for a late Friday afternoon article.

If you managed Microsoft Windows Active Directory based domains you should be very familiar with the management console Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC). When you have a sprawling OU design it can be difficult to find the user, computer or group that needs your attention. I set up a few saved queries to give me an easy to read list view of certain object types. If you can’t figure out how to create a new saved query then you may be in the wrong job but the is a comprehensive guide over at the Petri IT Knowledgebase. The 3 I use most often are set up as follows

  • All Devices
    • A simple query where just the computer object must have a value to display
  • All Users
    • Same as above, just make sure you are focussing on Users not Computers
  • Locked accounts
    • My most useful time saver. This one is only slightly more tricky as you need to enter a custom search string. Credit goes to an article on WinodwsNetworking.com for this one. By using the string below, when somebody calls to say they have been locked out, I can quickly bring up this saved query and unlock them in a matter of seconds
    • (&(&(&(objectCategory=Person)(objectClass=User)(lockoutTime>=1))))

You can really go to town on these queries and there is a great list already created for you, back over on the Petri IT Knowledgebase

Tips – Finding the right Group Policy setting

UPDATED – see below for info on the new Group Policy Search web app

Now Windows Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) is nearing the end of it’s beta process it won’t be long before SysAdmins will be deploying it out across their networks. Something that occurs with any new Microsoft software is the need to update Group Policy to control any new features and lock down as appropriate. I thought I’d share a few tips on how I find discover and configure these new settings.

It seems that with each new Administrative template (ADMX) there are an ever-increasing amount of settings that can be managed (Over 1500 for IE9 alone!). While great for security it can be a headache to navigate. Microsoft usually lists the group policy settings for each product on the TechNet site, like this page for IE9, but did you know there is also an MSDN website (hosted on Azure) called Group Policy Search. This is a godsend policy administrators because not only does it allow you to search the contents of all the Microsoft Windows & Office policies but it also gives you the info like what the policy is supported on and even the registry key that the policy changes. This is a great place to copy details if you need to report to a manager on what a certain setting can do.

Group Policy Search Cloud App
Group Policy Search Cloud App

 This site does work on smartphones but I can see this working really well as a reference app on a mobile device. UPDATE: I just found that somebody has made this into an app for Windows Phone 7/8. Find it in the web store or search on your phones marketplace for Group Policy Search. Now it’s up to another dev to make one for Android and iPhone!

If you use Windows 7/Server 2008 R2, or later, you can also download a Search Connector (from the site’s Settings menu). This lets you search the Group Policy Search website from Windows Explorer, giving you an excerpt of the description and link to the relevant webpage. UPDATE: Unfortunately, due to the change of host for the web app, the connector is broken. Luckily, it is easily fixed by editing the OSDX file. Download the GroupPolicySearch.osdx connector from the site and open with a text editor. Change line 5 to the code below, save and then double-click the file to install to your userprofile/Searches folder

<Url type="application/rss+xml" template="http://gpsearch.azurewebsites.net/gps/rss.ashx?search={searchTerms}"/>
Group Policy Search Connector
Group Policy Search Connector in Windows 7

Another task that becomes complicated is to find settings you have previously changed. I may open up the Group Policy Editor knowing I need to modify a previous setting change but it can be like finding a needle in a haystack digging through all the non-configured settings. You can find it via a report in the Group Policy Management console but did you know you can also filter policies in the editor? Go to the View menu and choose Filter Options. Here you can set up a number of criteria on what you want to see. I typically would change it to only show configured settings and also any policy with my initials in the comments. This makes it really easy to see the changes I have made and adjust them appropriately.

Group Policy Filtering
Group Policy Filtering

I hope that’s given you a bit of help in discovering and managing group policy settings. Let me know your tips in the comments.

UPDATE: I discovered this great page in the increasingly useful TechNet Wiki – Group Policy Survival Guide. It contains links to anything and everything to do with Group Policy