Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ashampoo Burning Studio 2007

Ashampoo Burning Studio 2007

On Tuesday, November 28th, Ashampoo released a free version of its Burning Studio 2007 (link). This is a limited time offer which will end after December 13th 2006. To get your free copy of Burning Studios 2007, download the software package and install it. During the installation process, you will be prompted to register it. Be sure to select “free full version key.” Next, the software will open your default web browser and load Ashampoo’s registration website. You need to provide a valid e-mail address to receive an activation e-mail from Ashampoo. Once you have received the e-mail, click on the link found within the e-mail. A new window will open. Copy the free license key which appears and paste it on to the installation dialog box. Continue the installation process. Viola, you have now installed Ashampoo’s Burning Studios 2007.

Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch. By default, Ashampoo will send their newsletter to the e-mail address you provided. You can cancel the newsletter by clicking on the opted out link found on any of their e-mail messages. If you want to play it safe, you can choose to use a disposable e-mail address (e.g. jetable disposable e-mail addresses).

Ashampoo’s Burning Studio 2007 is a decent multimedia suite. Some of its features include: copying data files and folders on to CD/DVD/Blu-ray Discs, ripping and burning audio files to CD/DVD/Blu-ray, copying non copy protected CD/DVD/Blu-ray Discs, creating and burning image files (i.e. iso,cue and bin) to CD/DVD/Blu-ray and erasing rewriteable media (i.e CD-RW and DVD-RW). For copying video files off a CD/DVD/Blu-ray Discs, the program gives you the option of burning it on the fly – provided that you have 2 or more DVD drives – or first copying it on to the hard drive and then duplicate CD/DVD/Blu-ray Discs.

It is a solid package for those you don’t want to spend money on commercial multimedia suites like Nero 7 Ultra Edition or Roxio Creator. Ashampoo’s Burning Studio 2007 is a great alternative. So, hurry up and get your free copy today (link).

Pro's: A nice collection of both audio and video authoring software. It's like a DeepBurner and ImgBurn rolled up in to one. And, you can't beat the price.

Con's: Video authoring is limited. Unlike Nero's Recode and DVDShrink, it can not "shrink" video files. As mentioned before, there is no such thing as a free lunch. For a free license key, you have to provide a valid e-mail address, which Ashampoo will most likely used to flood you with spam about their other products.

Microsoft set to push out updated antipiracy tool

Microsoft set to push out updated antipiracy tool

In response to feedback submitted by users, Microsoft has made some changes to Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Notifier, its antipiracy tool. Microsoft antipiracy program actually has 2 components, WGA's validation and notification. The validation component checks the copy of Windows and determine if the copy is indeed genuine while the notification component, when a copy is found not to be genuine, will inform the user that the copy is not genuine and prompt the user to obtain a genuine copy. The validation component is mandatory while the notifier, at least for now, is not mandatory. However, Microsoft has included the WGA notifier as a critical update. Thus, if a Windows user is not careful and automatically install all updates, he/ she could inadvertently install WGA notifier, which is why many critics consider the antipiracy tool to be spyware. To address this issue, Microsoft has made some subtle but helpful changes. The installation and use of WGA is spell out clearer to the user. When a copy of Windows, which has failed the validation process, the user will get the following message "Your system did not pass genuine validation" instead of the more accusatory This copy of Windows is not genuine."

Despite the changes, many critics still consider the validation process to be very deceptive and invasive. Critics concede that Microsoft does have the right to protect its intellectual property but they don't think the WGA program is the answer.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Some of the Craziest Stories Playstation 3 Stories

Some of the Craziest Stories Playstation 3 Stories

I am sorry that I didn't post this sooner. As some of you may know, PS3 was one of the most anticipated electronic game console to be released this year. With a high demand and short supply, it is extremely hard for anyone to get their hands on one. Here is a collection of the craziest stories about the length that die hard PS3 fans would take to get their hands one. Some of the stories are just plain hilarious.

Opera 9.1x Fraud Protection

I have been a long time admirer of the Opera web browser. Internet Explorer (IE) and Firefox might get all the publicity but make no mistake Opera is a stellar web browser. Many of the features found in Firefox and newly added to IE 7 have long been available in Opera, such as tab browsing, integrated rss aggregator, password manager, download manager and integrated search box. Unfortunately, despite Opera’s laudable history of innovation, it hasn’t really built a large community of users. However, there is one niche in which Opera has been successful in capturing; Opera is widely used in mobile devices (e.g. mobile phones) (link).

Opera 9.02 is the latest stable version; however, the first release candidate for Opera 9.1 is available for download. This future version refines on already existing features but there is one new addition I would like to talk about. Opera 9.1 will include a new fraud detection feature. It is no big surprise; Firefox 2.0 and IE 7 both have one. The threat of phish websites has been on the rise for some time now. Phish sites pose a serious problem because, just as one is discovered, it is replaced by another. So, browsers which use blacklists are not very effective since new phish sites appear every minute and blacklists quickly become outdated. Opera’s fraud detection works a little different than Firefox and IE’s fraud detection.

By default, Firefox 2.0 only uses a blacklist to detect phish sites. Users need to enable the real time protection feature. And, the real time problem is not without problems. The technology behind Google’s Safe Browsing extension was used to create the real time protection for Firefox 2.0. Some privacy advocates are concern since a record of sites visited by users are sent to Google (link).

The built-in phishing protection is truly third-rate. There are two antiphishing options: Mozilla's weak blacklist-based protection (yes, seriously) and Google's antiphishing technology, which is both poorly rated and a privacy nightmare.” – Paul Thurrott

As usual, Google denies that it keeps any personal information and only the barest of information is recorded to determine if a site is genuine or malicious.

During installation of IE 7, the user will be prompted to either enable the phishing filter or not. If enabled, IE 7 will automatically check the webpage you are trying to load against an up-to-date list of known phish sites. The list is maintained by Microsoft based on suspected phish sites submitted by IE users. If a user declines to activate the phishing filter, he can still audit the current webpage with a single click (link). However, one annoying problem I noticed with IE’s phishing filter is that it significantly slows the loading of a webpage. It became so annoying that I disabled the feature and took my chances without the protection.

Phishing Filter helps to protect you in two key ways.

  • It operates in the background as you browse the Web, analyzing Web pages and determining if they have any characteristics that might be suspicious. If it finds suspicious Web pages, it will show a yellow warning, advising you to proceed with caution.

  • Phishing Filter checks the sites you visit against an up-to-the-hour,

dynamic list of reported phishing sites. If it finds a match, Phishing Filter will show you a red warning notifying you that the site has been blocked for your safety.” –

Well, enough about Firefox and IE 7, Opera has a solid phishing filter but they call it “fraud protection.” By default, the fraud protection is disabled. Users can enable it by going to Menu bar > Tools > Preferences > “Advanced” tab > check “Enable Fraud Protection” > [O.K.]. When loading a new webpage, Opera will automatically send the webpage’s URL to Opera’s server where it is matched against a list of known phish sites. To the right of the address bar, Opera will display either an “i” for a website known to be genuine or a “?” for unknown websites. However, if the website is a known phish site, Opera will block the loading of the webpage (see below).

Opera make every attempt to respect users’ privacy by not storing the sites visited on their servers. In addition, no cookies are created nor is any information forwarded to third parties. There is one feature which really caught my eye. Once a website has been declared safe, the browser will cache the website (link). As a result, if a user revisits the same website, Opera doesn’t need to check with the server since the website has been declared safe which saves time. While surfing the Internet with Opera, I hardly noticed any delay in loading a webpage.

When you browse to a site you have not visited before, the browser sends a request for site information to our server. The requests contains the domain name of the site and a hash value of the URL. We don't send the full URL, but we need a fingerprint of the full URL in case you visit a dangerous page on a site that is otherwise harmless.

The reply from the server is an XML document containing the trust level of the domain. This reply will be cached by Opera for a time indicated by our server. This means that information about well-trusted sites can be cached for a longer period than for unknown sites.

We don't store information on our servers that let us track individual users. IP addresses are discarded and we don't use cookies or other session information. No information goes directly to third parties, all communication goes through our own servers. Our servers get the trust information from a database supplied by GeoTrust, who have a long experience with anti-fraud solutions.” – Opera Desktop Team

In closing, I would like to say that Opera is a solid web browser known for innovation. In addition, the Opera development team has done a remarkable job of creating a reliable and efficient fraud protection.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

So did that tweak speed up my web browser?

Let me first start off by saying that this is not an article on how to speed up a web browser but rather illustrates a method to determine if a tweak does indeed speed up the browser. The same method can be use to compare time it takes to render a webpage for different browsers.

There is no shortage of good web browsers. On Windows systems, Internet Explorer is the most widely used browser. However, more and more web users are switching over to alternative browsers, such as Firebox and Opera. There is a growing dispute about which browser is the fastest. In addition, there are several articles offering tips and tweaks to optimize browser performance. Well, this brings up two questions:

Question # 1, How do you test the speed at which a browser renders a webpage?

Question #2, How can you quantify if a tweak(s) to your browser has indeed increase the speed of the browser?

Well, there is an easy way to find out. In the following paragraphs, I am going to describe how to measure the time it takes to render a webpage. The latter will give us a way to compare quantitatively the speeds of the various browsers and the effectiveness of the tweaks.

First, start up your preferred web browser. Second, clear the browser’s cache.

In Internet Explorer, go to Tools > Internet Options > General tab > under “Temporary Internet Files” click [Delete Files].

In Firefox, go to Tools > Options > Privacy > Cache tab > click [Clear Cache Now].

In Opera, go to Tools > Preferences > History > under “Disk Cache” click [Empty Now]

Once you have finished clearing the cache, go to Under “Enter the URL to be measured,” type in a convenient web address, such as or The key is to enter in a web address which has both text and images. Once you have typed in an address, click [Start Stopwatch]. Your browser will load the web address you entered previously. What Stopwatch does is to display the time it takes for your browser to go from its [Stopwatch] homepage to the web addressed you entered. Write down the time displayed. Next, go to your next web browser and repeat the above steps. Afterwards, compare the times for each web browser. Viola, you now have a quantitative measure of a browser’s speed to render a given webpage.

This procedure can also be used to calculate if a particular tweak(s) to a web browser has indeed improve its speed to render a webpage. Just remember to always clear the cache before starting the stopwatch.

Friday, November 24, 2006

There are a number of websites which can display the geographic location of any IP address. However, My IP Address adds a twist; it will also use Google Map to pinpoint the location. Like other similar websites, My IP Address can also identify the ISP provider as well. My IP Address comes in handy when you want to locate an unfamiliar IP address.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

7 Google Reader Tips and Tricks

7 Google Reader Tips and Tricks

There are several online and offline RSS aggregators. Personally, there is one RSS aggregator which stands out from the rest. You might have already guessed it. It's Google Reader. Google Reader is still in beta but it works and feels like a polished application. The official Google Reader website has a number of tips and tweaks on how to get the most out of it. Another Google Reader aficionado has taken the time to highlight some of his favorite tips on Google Reader.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Black Friday is the Official Site for 2006 Black Friday Ads!

Black Friday is the Official Site for 2006 Black Friday Ads!

The day after Thanksgivings Day is often refer to as "Black Friday." Black Friday is traditional the number one shopping day of the year. It is the day when retailers slash their prices to attract shoppers. It is also the day that determines if a retailer will be in the red or black for the year. The sales are usually kept secret until the actual date. However, some how people manage to get a copy of the sale ads before Black Friday. Here is a link to the "official" Black Friday website. Click on any company's logo and the site will display all its sale items for Black Friday. Unfortunately, it is difficult to confirm these sale items and prices and the website does not guarantee 100% accuracy. Still, it does give a rough idea of what will be available.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

BetaNews | Microsoft Issues 5 Critical Patches

BetaNews Microsoft Issues 5 Critical Patches

Today, Microsoft releases 5 critical patches. In addition, they also released an updated version of Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal tool. As usual, the updates are available via Microsoft Uudates

Disable Unnecessary Windows Services to Improve Windows XP Performance

Windows XP right out of the box is not optimize for performance. There are many Windows services and processes which are turn on by default, some of which you don't need. Why do you ask? Microsoft engineers tried to anticipate what services to enable to address the vast majority of users. As I would say a cookie cutter approach (i.e. one size fits all). For example, there is a service called "printer spooler" which loads files to memory for later printing. If you don't have a printer connected to your computer, what is the point of keeping this service? It would just waste computer resources which could be used elsewhere. And, it is for this reason, I recommend disabling unnecessary Windows services to improve overall performance. But then it naturally raises the question how do I or anyone else find out which services are safe to disable. Thankfully, there are several generous computer experts who have taken the time to compile a list of Windows services, their functions and more importantly the information people need to make a decision whether to keep a service or not.

  1. Black Viper: This is perhaps the most recognized source of information on Windows services. I have come across many articles which makes reference to Black Viper. And, for good reason, he gives each service a description and his recommendation. In addition, he gives the default setting for both Windows XP home edition and professional edition. Unfortunately, despite its popularity, the website, which hosted the list, was taken down sometime ago. However,, a website specializing in both free and commercial software downloads, picked up the list and is available for anyone to use.
  2. JohnTP Home: John reviews Windows services in his article "How to Speed Up and Secure Your PC." It is a great article and I recommend everyone, novices and experts alike, to read it. His article is similar to Black Viper, he gives each service a description and his recommendation. While you are on his website, you might want to look at some of his great articles on how to spice up your personal blog.
  3. The Elder Geek: The computer guru and legendary hero who started his career in computer when desktop computers were the size of a mac truck. His list is the most informative of the 4 articles mentioned here. But, I should warn you that he does not recommend making changes to the default settings. He was reluctant to make up such a list but his fans urged him to do so. I guess he felt if he was going to make up a list then he would give the most information possible for people to make an informed decision.
  4. Windows Networking: Perhaps not the most informative lists but it is comprehensive and succinct.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Webpages Not Loading Correctly in Internet Explorer 7. How to Fix the Problem.

Internet Explorer 7 has been released to the public for several weeks now. Unfortunately, there are numerous complaints from IE 7 users that their favorite webpages are not loading correctly. Why? The answer is disturbing. It seems with all the time put in to updating IE6 to IE 7, Microsoft created a new version which is less compliant with web standards than the one before it. Yet another example of Microsoft ineptness.

Read what some critics had to say about the matter.


"Windows experts and web developers are unhappy with Microsoft. Yes, again. Since Internet Explorer 7 was announced, Microsoft has promised that supporting current web standards was high on its list. It turns out, though, that by at least one report, IE7 will only support 54% of the CSS 2.1 standard, as compared to 52% in IE6 and 93% in Firefox 1.5 and 96% in Opera 9." -- written by Jordan Running,

Windows IT Pro:

"Microsoft blames backward-compatibility problems for the stalemate over true Web standards compatibility. Put succinctly, the company has gone its own way for so long and now has to support so many developers who use nonstandard Web technologies that it will be impossible to make IE Web-standards-compliant without breaking half the commercial Web sites on the planet. Furthermore, by halting all IE development for several years before reconstituting the IE team to create IE 7.0, Microsoft has set back Web development by an immeasurable amount of time." -- written by Paul Thurott,

Now, how to fix the problem. Microsoft has developed a workaround for problems with webpages not loading properly in IE 7. The workaround is to change the user agent string for IE 7; instead of identifying itself as IE 7, IE 7 will identify itself as IE 6 to webpages. Microsoft has developed a small free utility to change the user agent string; the download link is ( This will correct the problem for many webpages; however, it doesn't work for all of them. I have seen the same workaround in the Opera web browser, which includes a feature to identify itself as either Opera 9.x or Internet Explorer.

For information on the workaround and solutions for other common problems with IE 7, go to Microsoft's IE Support page ( Below, you will find the excerpt, pertaining to IE 7's user agent, from the support page.

"Question: My favorite websites don't load correctly, or don't seem to work at all in Internet Explorer 7. What should I do?

Answer: If you encounter a site which does not recognize Internet Explorer 7, a new tool known as the User Agent String Utility has been created to help you work around the problem. The utility comes in the form of a small executable that opens an Internet Explorer 7 instance that emulates Internet Explorer 6 by sending the Internet Explorer 6 user agent string. It also provides a mechanism for you to report problem web sites to Microsoft so that we can follow up with the affected site owners. Download the tool here."

If you continue to experience problems then you should seriously consider uninstalling IE 7 and restoring IE 6. The support page also has instructions on how to do so.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Microsoft to Deliver Six Security Bulletins, Some Critical

Microsoft to Deliver Six Security Bulletins, Some Critical

Eweek reports that Microsoft is scheduled to released at least six patches on November 14th, the next "Patch Tuesday." As a rule, Microsoft does not release details of the patches before the actual release date. However, it is expected at least one critical patch will be included in next week's release.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Editing Firefox Configuration For Improve Performance and Usability

Firefox has many praise worthy features. But, one which stands out above the rest is its ability to be customized. Use the all powerful about:config to optimize Firefox performance and usability. To edit Firefox's configuration, create a new tab and type "about:config" (without the quotation marks) in to the address bar > [Enter]. Below, I have included my favorite tweaks with links to the references for each tweak.

  1. Disable Third Party Cookies: There are many legitimate reasons to use cookies, such as saving passwords on login websites and saving user's preferences for a website. However, there are many reasons why you wouldn't want to use cookies, such as tracking cookies which record your movements on the Internet. Here is a tweak to accept cookies from the originating website but to block third party cookies (link). Third party cookies are usually cookies left behind by advertising companies which sponsor the website. You may choose to block all cookies but, be careful, many websites require cookies. Enter "network.cookie.cookieBehavior" (without the quotation marks). Set the value to "0" to accept all cookies. Set the value to "1" to accept cookies only from the originating website. Set the value to "2" to block all cookies.
  2. Disable Prefetch: Firefox has a prefetch feature which tries to anticipate which links you might want to go to and it downloads those webpages (link). You can disable this feature and download only those webpages in which you want. Enter "network.prefetch-next" and toggle it to "false."
  3. Enable Pipelining: Pipelining is a relatively new technology (link). Normally, a web browser will send only one request to a website's server. In addition, it will wait until it receives a response from the server before continuing. With pipelining, multiple requests are made and the browser does not wait for a response from the server. This cuts down on the time it takes to load a webpage; however, not all web servers support pipelining and you might experience problems using it. To enable pipelining, enter "network.http.pipelining" and toggle it to "true." Do the same for "network.http.proxy.pipelining."
  4. Increase the Maximum Number of Connections: This tweak is more for those who have a broadband connection. It doesn't work well with dial-up and it may even be detrimental. In Firefox, you can open several simultaneous HTTP connections (link). By default, the number of connections is set to "24." I recommend increasing it to "40." If you notice Firefox takes longer to load a webpage, back it down to "32." To change the value, enter "network.http.max-connections" and select modify to change it.
  5. Increase the Maximum Number of Connections per Server: This is a continuation of setting maximum number of HTTP connects. However, in this case, it is the maximum number of HTTP connection to a single web server. The default value is set to "8." But, you can increase the value to "16." To change the value, enter "network.http.max-connections-per-server" and select modify to change it.
  6. Disable Trim on Minimize: If there is one thing Firefox fans have to complain about, it is memory leak in Firefox. There are a number of items which causes Firefox to use an enormous amount of memory. First, Firefox caches webpages as you surf the net. Caching allows for faster reloading of previous viewed webpages. The more caching results in more memory used. Second, many Firefox extensions can cause memory leaks(link). Firefox's trim on minimize is one way Firefox tries to curb memory usage. When you minimize Firefox, the memory used is "trimmed" (i.e. reduced to 10MB). However, the juggling of memory during maximize and minimize Firefox deceases performance. To disable trim on minimize, enter "config.trim_on_minimize" and toggle it to "false."
  7. Optimize Page Rendering: Firefox, by default, waits 250 milliseconds (i.e. 0.25 seconds) before rendering a webpage (link). You can decrease this time to "0." To change the value, enter "nglayout.initialpaint.delay" and set the value to "0."
  8. Increase the Disk Cache: Firefox uses two types of caches. They are the disk cache and the memory cache. Many of you are familiar with the disk cache which stores webpage content for faster retrieval. By default, the disk cache is set to 50MB. You can increase the disk cache to store more webpage content (link). This is especially useful if you use the same websites over and over again. You do not need to edit the configuration to change the disk cache. Instead, go to the menu bar > tools > options >advanced > network tab > under cache, increase the cache to "100MB."
  9. Increase the Memory Cache: While the disk cache is saved on to your hard drive and is accessible until it is deleted, memory cache is cleared when you exit Firefox. You can significantly increase Firefox performance by increasing the memory cache. However, you run in to the same old problem, Firefox using too much memory. If you have at least 512MB of RAM, increase the memory cache to "64MB." To change the memory cache, enter "browser.cache.memory.capacity" and change the value to "65536."
  10. Disable Firefox's Anti-Phishing feature: Some of you might have noticed Firefox 2.0 is significantly slower than Firefox 1.5x in loading a webpage. This because of Firefox 2.0 new anti-phishing security feature. Before loading a new webpage, Firefox matches the webpage you trying to load to a blacklist of know malicious websites. If the webpage does not appear on the blacklist then Firefox will load the webpage. If not, Firefox will display a warning that the webpage you are trying to load is suspicious and might be a malicious site. The process of matching the webpage to the blacklist slows Firefox. If you are confident that you only view safe websites, there is really no need for this security feature. You do not need to use about:config to disable it. Instead, go to the menu bar > tools > options > security and uncheck "Tell me if the site I'm visiting is a suspected forgery" > [O.K.]. (link)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

SonicWALL Phishing IQ Test

SonicWALL Phishing IQ Test

Try your luck at picking out the phish e-mails from a group of 10 sample e-mails. Supposedly, less than 4% of testers managed to identify all of the phish e-mails. Do you think you are part of the 4% who got them right? The test is both entertaining and educational.