Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

Forgetting Wireless Networks In Windows 8.1

March 30, 2014 Comments off

One of the problems with Windows 8 is that it hides important functionality. For instance, Windows 7 had a useful “Manage Wireless Networks” section of the Network and Sharing Center, but that was removed in Windows 8. The ability to delete a saved wireless connection did remain, albeit only when the connection showed up in the network list, where you could right-click it to delete it. Then Windows 8.1 came along and removed even that feature.

The good news is that the command-line utility netsh can still be used to forget the networks. You can type netsh wlan show profiles to display a list of saved networks, and netsh wlan delete profile name="profilename" (where profilename is the name of the saved network connection) to forget one. See Ciprian Adrian Rusen’s post on 7 Tutorials entitled How to Delete or Forget Wireless Network Profiles in Windows 8.1 for more details. That’s not much consolation, however, for users who aren’t comfortable using the command line.

To help mitigate this problem, I put together a batch file that acts a bit like a wizard to automate the process. It starts by displaying the list of profiles, asks the user whether to delete a profile, and prompts for the name of the profile to delete. It’s nothing fancy, but it might be easier to double-click a batch file and follow instructions than remember the netsh command.

A couple of caveats: First, I generally recommend against running just any batch file you found on the Internet unless you’ve had a chance to look it over and have at least some understanding of what it’s doing. That’s part of the reason that I’m not offering a separate download: If you copy-paste the code yourself, at least you know I didn’t slip anything in there that wasn’t in this post for everyone to see. Second, I’m offering this with absolutely no warranties whatsoever (see disclaimer below). I’m not sure what could go wrong, except maybe deleting a profile you didn’t mean to delete, but it wouldn’t be the first time I made something that failed in ways I didn’t think it could.

Here’s the code:

@echo off


echo Listing saved wireless network profiles...
netsh wlan show profiles
set /p deleteconf="Delete a profile (Y/N)? > " %=%
IF %deleteconf%==Y ( goto DELETEPROMPT ) ELSE (
    IF %deleteconf%==y ( goto DELETEPROMPT ) ELSE ( goto END )


set /p ssid="Delete which network? > "
netsh wlan delete profile name="%ssid%"


echo Exiting.

Just copy the above code and paste it into a text editor such as Notepad, then save it as something with the .bat extension. (When saving, make sure you set the “Save as type” field to “All files (*.*)” or else you’ll end up with a plain text file.) Double-click the batch file to run it. It will start by showing you a list of saved wireless network profiles. It will then ask whether you want to delete one. Type Y and hit enter, then type the name of the profile you want to delete and hit enter again. Repeat until you’re finished deleting networks, then type N at the prompt to exit.

Screenshot of the batch file running

Feel free to use and distribute this however you please. I’m not going to bother formally open-sourcing it because I don’t think there’s enough to it to warrant including a license longer than the actual code. However, I am going to borrow the disclaimer from the BSD license (which, according to Wikipedia, is public domain, so copy-pasting it here shouldn’t be a copyright issue).


Lest there be any confusion, “This software” means only the batch file itself, since of course I don’t own netsh itself, and “the copyright holders and contributors” just means me in this case.

I hope someone out there finds this useful.

FreeFileSync as a Briefcase Alternative

September 24, 2013 2 comments

My post from last December on getting briefcases to work on Windows 8 has gotten a lot of traffic, which makes me feel a little guilty. My experience has been that briefcases on Windows 8 don’t actually work all that well. For one thing, they were painfully slow. Additionally, I’d often run into a bug that made the briefcase think that both versions of some huge number of files (sometimes every file in the briefcase) had been modified, forcing me to click through every single one of them and manually decide which version to keep. Between these problems and the looming threat of the workaround being disabled in future versions, it eventually became clear that I needed to try something else.

The solution I decided on was an open-source (GPLv3) application called FreeFileSync.

In a lot of ways, FreeFileSync works similarly to briefcases. You specify directories to synchronize. The program compares them and shows you a list of which files have changed and what it plans to do to bring the two directories in sync, giving you the opportunity to change the action for each file. Then you click Synchronize, and FreeFileSync updates the files.

There are some differences, though. The first and most obvious is that FreeFileSync isn’t integrated into Windows Explorer like Briefcase is, so you have to open the program each time you use it. This doesn’t bother me, though, since the program is so much faster than briefcases on Windows 8 even with the extra clicks. This can also be an advantage: You can open the program once and run several sync jobs in one session without having to browse to each briefcase in Windows Explorer.

Additionally, FreeFileSync’s file list offers more information and more options for sync actions than a briefcase’s, and is easier to read. The program offers multiple sync options, like “mirror” and “update” in addition to the briefcase-like “two-way” sync. It also displays a graph with detailed information about sync progress, whereas a briefcase only gives you a progress bar. In my experience so far, most of the differences have just been advantages or additional features of FreeFileSync.

Screenshot of FreeFileSync main window

As a replacement for how I used briefcases, FreeFileSync hasn’t given me any major trouble. However, I generally created sync copies of entire directories, not individual files. If your briefcases had sync copies of several files form disparate locations on your hard drive, the transition to FFS may not go as smoothly. You can probably get what you want using filters, though this can be a bit of a pain to set up. Jobs can be saved, so you don’t have to re-enter the filters every time, but I won’t deny that this is still a cumbersome solution, especially if you add and remove files from your briefcase frequently. Whether it’s worth the hassle depends on your needs and how much trouble briefcases are giving you.

Screenshot of FreeFileSync showing filters and multiple folder pairs

FreeFileSync also has a few other features that I haven’t even tried yet. I’m not going to cover them here, since I’m focusing mostly on using FFS to replace the Windows briefcase, but they may be worth checking out. One such feature is the bundled RealtimeSync app, which can watch directories and run a command (generally a saved FFS batch job) whenever it sees a change. Another is the ability to maintain old versions of files deleted during sync, or move them to the recycle bin, instead of deleting them outright.

I’m happy enough with FreeFilesync that I’ve started using it on my Windows 7 PC as well. Briefcases were giving me an odd permissions issue when I tried to use them outside my user folder, but FreeFileSync has no such problems. It’s also a nice way to avoid the annoying “The briefcase is open on another computer” message that would often appear when I tried to use a program to open or save a file in a briefcase that was already open in Windows Explorer.

I have run into one problem so far: At one point, after I had some files deleted from a directory, FreeFileSync wanted to copy the files back across from the backup to the local copy, rather than deleting them from the backup. (The directory was a Git working directory, and the files disappeared because I switched to a branch that didn’t have them. I doubt that’s actually related to the problem, though.) This was trivial to work around, but it was a bit annoying. You’ll want to keep this in the back of your mind lest it catch you off-guard.

Overall, I’m very pleased with how FreeFileSync has worked for me. It isn’t perfect, but it does a good enough job that I recommend it over trying to keep using briefcases in Windows 8. Actual mileage will vary, of course, but if you’re relying on briefcases using the workaround I posted before, you should at least give FreeFileSync a look.

Restoring Windows Defender on Windows 8

I ran into a little difficulty getting Windows Defender up and running after the pre-installed Norton product on my work PC expired the other day. The work PC is running Windows 8, which comes with Windows Defender built-in, and I figured there was little reason to spend money on a Norton subscription when there was a perfectly serviceable antivirus app that came as part of the operating system.

(In case you’re wondering, the antivirus that comes with Windows 8 shares the name “Windows Defender” with an antispyware product that came with Windows Vista, but the Windows 8 version is basically a version of Microsoft Security Essentials. Microsoft should really find someone new to come up with their product names, because this is just confusing.)

Unfortunately, even after I uninstalled Norton, attempts to open Defender were met with an error message referring me to Action Center, which in turn told me to disable my third-party antivirus first. Hadn’t I already done that?

The confusion turned out to be my own fault, but before I get to that, here are the steps that solved the problem for me:

  1. Uninstall Norton through the usual Programs and Features Control Panel.
    • You should restart the computer when prompted and see if anything changes in Action Center before moving on to step 2.
  2. Download and run the Norton Removal Tool from the Norton Web site. Restart the computer when prompted.
  3. Open up Action Center, which should now give you the option to activate Windows Defender.

This wasn’t exactly a lengthy ordeal, but it was a bit of a nuisance. I might have spared myself some trouble had I been a bit more careful and followed some simple instructions.

First, I didn’t reboot when prompted by the uninstaller. I had other things open, so I decided to wait until later. So the next time I checked Action Center was after uninstalling Norton but before rebooting. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect I would been able to activate Defender without bothering with the Norton Removal Tool, had I rebooted immediately and then checked Action Center.

Unfortunately, my second mistake was to train myself to ignore the message that kept telling me to open Action Center. The message appeared every time I tried to access Windows Defender’s icon on the Start screen or in Control Panel, and I shrugged it off because I’d already checked Action Center at least once and there was no help for me there.

So I took to the Web to find an answer and came across the above-mentioned forum threads, downloaded and ran the Norton remover, and then restarted. Once it finally dawned on me that I still needed to check Action Center, the issue was resolved.

It’s tempting to make excuses about banner blindness and superfluous warnings, but the truth is I just made my life more difficult by not paying attention. Consider this my Lenten lesson in humility.

Pinning Files in Windows 8

February 21, 2013 Comments off

A Windows 7 feature I use once in a blue moon (but find extremely handy on those few occasions) is the ability to pin documents to the programs you use to open them in the Start Menu’s recent programs list.

Windows 7 Start Menu showing pinned documents

Windows 8, as you probably already know, has an extremely different Start menu, and those lists aren’t on it. How can we get this feature back?

For one thing, the list of pinned and recent items in the Start menu is the exact same list as the Jump Lists that appear when you right-click a taskbar button in Windows 7. Those jump lists also appear in Windows 8. All you have to do is drag your document to the taskbar button

Just one little problem: I don’t pin programs to the taskbar. I prefer using Quick Launch buttons, because I don’t like having to right-click the button to open a new instance if the pinned application is already open. Yes, I’m picky. The good news is that you don’t have to leave the program pinned for this to work. (Pinning the document to the program pins the program to the taskbar, but you can unpin it when you’re done without hurting anything.) The bad news is that if you don’t leave the program pinned, you have to have an instance of it open before you can access the jump list, and opening the pinned file generally opens a new window rather than using the existing one.

Jump list in Windows 8 with a pinned file

Pinning to jump lists might be all you need if you use the taskbar the Windows 7/8 way, but for me, it wasn’t satisfying.

I already admitted to being stubborn and picky, and willing to put in extra work to get my Windows experience just so. To get this up and running on Windows 8, I’ll have to take that to extremes.

It would be child’s play to create a shortcut to a document and just pin that to the Start menu. (You generally can’t pin the documents themselves.) That still doesn’t satisfy me, though, because I might want to open the file in something other than the default editor (e.g. opening an HTML file in a text editor).

You could easily download a program to accomplish this. A little digging might turn up an app that will let you create a tile that opens a document in a particular app. If I really wanted to, I could just download Classic Shell, have my Windows 7-style Start Menu back, and be done with it. But that’s quitter talk; I want to see what I can do on my own. Besides, I’d prefer not to have to download and install yet another program.

But there is a solution! You start by creating a shortcut—not to the document, but to the program you want to use. Then you edit the shortcut to feed the file’s location to the program as a command-line parameter. In many cases this is as simple as adding a space and the file’s path and filename to the end of the Target field, but sometimes you’ll need to look up what command line parameters the program takes and whether it will let you pass in a file.

Properties window of a shortcut showing the document's filename added to the Target field

So there you have it: If you really, really want to, you can have tiles on your Start screen that open your favorite documents in your favorite programs.

Shortcuts, pinned to Windows 8 Start screen, that open a file in various programs

I think most people will be better off sticking with the jump lists.

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Turning Off Windows 8: Why You Should Be Using Toolbars

January 24, 2013 Comments off

One of the sillier decisions Microsoft made in Windows 8 is moving the menu to turn off the computer to the Charms bar’s Settings menu. Since when does turning off the computer count as a setting? Besides, it’s more clicks or key presses than it needs to be, by a wide enough margin that it’s bound to get annoying for those who have to turn off or restart their computers frequently.

Fortunately, with a little up-front work, you can have a menu that comes pretty close to the power menu in Windows Vista/7’s Start menu. All you have to do is recognize the power of toolbars.

Going back at least to XP (I haven’t tried it in earlier versions), you can add just about any folder on your hard drive to the taskbar as a toolbar. You can even add My Computer as a toolbar. Heck, that’s all the Quick Launch menu really is: All those articles about adding it back to Windows 7/8 just tell you where to find the old Quick Launch folder and how to style the toolbar. There are benefits to using the actual Quick Launch folder (i.e. some programs’ installers add shortcuts to it automatically), but really, you can do the same with any folder.

What that means is that you can create any menu of files and programs you’d like, simply by creating a folder with a bunch of shortcuts in it.

So how do we use this knowledge to create an easily-to-access power menu? Simple: Windows includes a command line utility that allows you to shut down the computer, aptly called shutdown. By passing it various parameters, you can achieve different results. For instance, shutdown /p (or alternatively, shutdown /s t 0) just turns off the computer. I’ll be the first to admit that creating a shortcut to this command isn’t exactly an original idea (among others, see Super User on a shortcut to shutdown and How-To Geek on pinning power icons to the Start screen), but I figured the toolbar tip made my version worth throwing onto the pile.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Create a folder where you’ll put the shortcuts. (I just stick mine in a subfolder of my user folder.) You can call it whatever you want, but keep in mind that the name of the folder will be the name of the toolbar.
  2. Create a new shortcut in the folder. When prompted for the location of the item, enter the command shutdown /s /t 0 in the text box. Name the shortcut Turn Off or something similar. Again, shutdown /p does the same thing.
  3. Create any additional shortcuts you want by varying the parameters:
    • To create a restart shortcut, enter shutdown /r /t 0 in the box.
    • To create a hibernate shortcut, enter shutdown /h in the box. No /t 0 this time!
    • To create a logoff shortcut, enter shutdown /l t 0 in the box.
  4. Optionally, you can customize the shortcuts’ icons:
    1. Right-click on an icon, select Properties, and click Change Icon.
    2. Pick an icon from %SystemRoot%\System32\SHELL32.dll (which Change Icon should have open by default) or browse for another icon file, then click OK in both the Change Icon and Properties windows.
    3. Repeat this for each shortcut you want to change.
  5. Right-click on the taskbar, go to “toolbars,” and click “New toolbar.”
  6. Browse to the folder you created in step 1 and click the “Select Folder” button.

Here’s what the end result looks like:


For comparison, here’s the power menu under Windows 7’s Start menu:


You can also pin these shortcuts to the Start screen if you want. That’s what I did on my PC at work, and here’s what it looks like:


A few other odds and ends for your consideration:

  • The /t parameter, in case you wondered, specifies the time, in seconds, before the computer shuts down. If you use the /s, /h, or /r parameters without /t, the computer will wait a short while, so we use /t 0 to make it turn off immediately.
  • In Windows 8, you can add the /hybrid parameter to the Turn Off shortcut (making the full command shutdown /s /t 0 /hybrid) to use a new Windows 8 feature that speeds up startup by restoring the operating system from a hibernation-like state instead of loading it from scratch. You can read more about it in the Super User question Are there downsides to Windows 8 Hybrid Shutdown?, or the (somewhat outdated) MSDN blog post Delivering fast boot times in Windows 8.
  • There are also ways to add standby/sleep and lock shortcuts. Unfortunately, they use dll files (via rundll32.exe), which aren’t nearly as well-documented as the shutdown command. Additionally, as I understand it, these rundll32 tips aren’t always reliable; for instance, the How-To Geek’s instructions for a lock shortcut worked for me, but when I tried the sleep shortcut from their post that I linked at the top of this post, it hibernated instead.
  • If you just want one button, you could just create a single shortcut and pin it to the taskbar, but I advise against it. It’s too easy to click it accidentally, and there are no take-backs.
  • The old-fashioned Shut Down menu that’s been around since Windows 95 is still around, too. Just press Alt + F4 from the desktop (meaning the actual desktop, not a desktop app). Winaero’s instructions for creating a shortcut to this Shut Down menu look interesting, but I’ve never tried them myself, so I can’t recommend them.
  • The downside of toolbars is that lining them up properly can be a pain. There’s no actual solution but there are some workarounds to get toolbars to look right.
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Windows 8 Briefcase Workaround

December 20, 2012 4 comments

I got a new computer at work that runs Windows 8. That means two things: First, I’m learning firsthand how the real Windows 8 differs from the Release Preview I’ve been using so far. Second, I now have to use Windows 8 to do actual work.

While working on putting that second point into practice yesterday, I discovered another negative to add to my list: Briefcases have been disabled.

The party line, judging by a Microsoft forum post I came across, is that briefcases have been rendered obsolete by cloud services like SkyDrive. That doesn’t really cut it for me, though: I sometimes need to be able to access work files on my laptop when I don’t have an Internet connection. Briefcases and a USB stick let me do that; SkyDrive, not so much.

The good news is that briefcases still work. They haven’t really been removed; you just can’t create new ones. There is a registry hack that fixes this, but I do my best not to touch the registry unless I have no choice. I certainly wouldn’t tell my non-tech-savvy friends to modify their registries using files from some Web site.

Luckily, briefcases made in previous versions of Windows and copied over still work fine. If you have a computer running, say, Windows XP, you can use it to create an empty briefcase on a USB stick and then use the briefcase with the Windows 8 computer. If you want the briefcase on the Windows 8 PC’s hard drive instead of the removable drive, just copy it over. If you use a lot of briefcases, you might want to leave an empty briefcase on the USB stick and keep making copies of it.

A couple of caveats: For one thing, judging by what I experienced yesterday, the briefcases are significantly slower than the ones I’m used to using on XP. I don’t know if that’s just a glitch I’m experiencing or an issue with Windows 8 or what. Additionally, I have a feeling that briefcases will be phased out in future versions of Windows. Still, it’s good enough for a stop-gap measure while I look for a better way to keep my files synced.

Update 9/24/2013: Since briefcases on Windows 8 are so slow and I encountered bugs more often than in past Windows versions, I strongly recommend looking for an alternative. I’ve been using FreeFilesync, and I’m fairly happy with it. I have a new post on FreeFileSync as a briefcase alternative that gives a quick overview.

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