Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Google Pack has been updated. In response to users' comments, Google has made some changes to the free software programs that make up Google Pack. Previously, Google Pack contained a special version of Symantec Antivirus program, which offered free updates for 6 months. After 6 months, the program will alert users that, in order to continue receiving signature updates, they had to purchase a license. However, in this latest edition of Google Pack, Symantec offers unlimited signature updates. Also, Google has add a special version of Spyware Doctor - Spyware Doctor Starter Kit - to the latest edition. This starter kit version only offers limited real time protection - only OnGuard and File protection - but it is still an awesome addition to the pack. The Google Pack still includes: Picasa, Google Earth, Google Desktop and the other programs found in the previous edition.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
In celebration of its 10 year anniversary, Yahoo! Mail announce that it will offer unlimited e-mail storage. The program will be slowly rolling out starting this May. I have to admit I am a little surprise by Yahoo! announcement. I have a Gmail account with 2.7GB+ e-mail storage and I have only used up 2%. What are people going to do with all that e-mail storage space? I wonder what Google and Microsoft are going to do in response to Yahoo! offer.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Personally, I wouldn't mind a little more cash. There are a number of banks which are offering a high yield savings account. These banks are able to offer higher yields because the saving accounts are direct accounts. Everything is done electronic. Instead of using a bank teller, you can deposit, withdrawal and several other types of transaction via the Internet, ATM and telephone. The bank saves money and passes on these savings on to the customer. In fact, HSBC Direct is offering a promotional 6.00% APR from now to April 27th 2007.
Friday, March 16, 2007
Net users know that there is no such thing as privacy on the Internet. But, few know that people's own Internet Service Provider (ISP) sell logs of their customers' activity on the Internet to market research firms. What is more troubling is that ISP never inform their customers that they sell their data. ISP argue that the data is stripped of any details which might identify the customer. Still, this is little solace for customers who feel betrayed by their ISP.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Today, Microsoft released its latest version of Windows Defender 7. As some of you may know, several years ago Microsoft acquired Giant Software and its anti spyware program. Windows Defender is included in Windows Vista and is a free download for Windows XP users - users must go through Microsoft WGA validation process to install it. Windows Defender provides both real time protection and on demand scanning. Despite Microsoft best efforts, Windows Defender only provides mediocre detection and protection. Unlike antivirus programs, users can use more than 1 anti spyware program. In fact, it is recommended you do. On my computer, I have installed Spybot Search & Destroy, Lavasoft's Ad Aware and Windows Defender and have experience no problem.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Surprise, surprise! No security patches for next week's Patch Tuesday. However, there will be a new version of Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal tool. In addition, there will be 2 non critical patches on Windows Update and 4 non critical patches on Microsoft Update.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Earlier this year, Netflix rolled out a new service called "Watch Now." The service allows users to stream movies to their computer. Depending on which plan users use, users get an alloted amount of free movie downloads. For instance, users of the 3 out at a time plan get 18 hours of free movie downloads. Users can watch the movie but can not burn them to DVD or save them on to the hard drive. Netflix's plan was to slowly roll out the new service to members and have the service available to everyone by June of this year. However, a clever user discovered an easy way to automatically get the service without waiting. I am sure that Netflix will fix the glitch soon; so, if you are a Netflix customer and have not received the service then you better get going.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Save cached copies of your favorite webpages to your Gmail account for online and offline browsing
There are no shortages of good social bookmarking services on the Internet. Personally, I use Del.icio.us, Digg and Yahoo! My Web. I have a preference for Yahoo! My Web because I have the option to save cached copies of any webpages. This comes in handy if, for whatever reason, the webpage disappears. Yes, you can use a permalink but not all websites offer them. In addition, with cached copies, you can instantly view them without having to go to the originating websites.
Today, I will describe how to save cached copies of webpages to Gmail, Google’s online e-mail service. Gmail offers an astounding 2.8+ GB of storage. You can use this space to hold all your saved webpages. You can tag and label all of your webpages for easy retrieval. Using Gmail’s sophisticated search options, you can generate a list of webpages which match your search query. In addition, you can setup your desktop e-mail client to download all these webpages and have them available for offline browsing.
Now, you are ready to save your favorite webpages. When you come across a webpage you want to save, click on the [toread+] bookmarklet. A new window will appear. Under comment, enter tags which will identify this webpage; separate each tag with a blank space. For example, for the Mozilla’s homepage, I enter the following tags: “mozilla opensource firefox browser freeware” (without the quotation marks). The webpage and tags are then sent to your Gmail address. The body of the message will contain a copy of the website. The tags will appear on the subject line and info.toread.cc. appears in the from field.
You can use Gmail sophisticated search options to easily find and sort your saved webpages. Open your Gmail account. To the left of the search box, click on Show Search Options. You can search by tags by entering the tag(s) on the Subject Line. You can search by content on a webpage by using Has the Words as well as search by date. Of course, you can use any combinations of these filters. You can also add labels to the messages to further sort your messages. For example, I use labels like “to do” or “important.” Now, you have a database of all your favorite webpages with an outstanding search tool to find and sort them. You can use your desktop e-mail client to download Gmail messages to browse your favorite webpages offline.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Restore Windows XP Performance
When you first took your computer out of the box, your computer was blazing fast. However, over time, you noticed that your computer gradually slowed down. Unfortunately, over time, your computer starts amassing useless temporary files, fragmented files on the hard drive, startup programs and the occasional spyware or other malicious files. Believe it or not, restoring your computer’s performance is relatively easy. What you need to do is to Clean It Up, Trim It Down and Lock It Up. Before going any further, you should create a system restore as a safety precaution. To create a system restore point, go to Start > Help and Support > Undo Changes to Your Computer with System Restore > Create a Restore Point > enter a name > [O.K.] > [Close].
Clean It Up
No matter how you use your computer, obsolete and useless files will clutter your hard drive. Removing these files will free up some precious hard drive space. But, that is not enough. You also need to defrag your hard drive. Ideally, you want your files to be consolidated on the hard drive for faster retrieval. But, in the real world, files are scattered throughout the hard drive. That’s why you need to defrag your hard drive.
Remove Obsolete and Useless Files: Windows XP comes with its own disk cleanup utility. You can find it at Start Menu > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup. If you have more than one hard drive, you need to select the hard drive you want to clean. Once you are in Disk Cleanup, select Download Program Files, Temporary Internet Files, Temporary Files and Recycle Bin. I recommend you don’t select Compress Old Files. After making your selection, click [O.K.].
Defrag the Hard Drive: Once again, Windows XP comes with a disk defragmenter. You can find it at Start Menu > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. If you have more than one hard drive, you need to select the hard drive you want to defrag. Once in Disk Defragmenter, click [Analyze] to check the level of fragmentation your hard drive. Windows XP will inform you if you hard drive needs to be defrag. Of course, you can always click [Defragment] with or without Windows XP recommendation. Be patient; the process can take minutes or hours to complete depending on the level of fragmentation. Unfortunately, Windows XP’s defragmenter does not defrag the paging file. To defrag the paging file, you need to use the free utility PageDefrag. You don’t need to install it. Instead, click on it and select to defrag the paging file on the next reboot.
Remove Obsolete Registry Keys: This is very important. Unless you absolutely know what you are doing, Do Not make any changes to the Windows registry. This includes adding, deleting and editing any registry key. Even a slight error in the Windows registry can lead to your computer becoming unstable and even unusable. You will need a registry cleaner to scan and remove obsolete registry keys. There are several free registry cleaners so you don’t need to spend a dime. But, I should mention that in my experience, the paid versions are invariable better than their free versions. Broadly speaking, all registry cleaners can be divided in to 2 groups. The first group are aggressive and the second not so aggressive. Each group has its own pro’s and con’s. Aggressive registry cleaner will search deep and wide to find all obsolete or useless keys; however, they cast a large net and they occasionally mislabel a registry key as useless when in fact it is not. The second group plays it safe and only includes registry keys that are completely safe to remove. However, they will miss some useless registry key. I recommend you stick with the second group. In this second group, I recommend the free CCleaner and Easy Cleaner. If you want a more aggressive scan, use either Eusing’s Registry Cleaner or Regseeker. Finally, always create a system restore point before making any changes. All of these programs prompt users to create a backup of the registry keys before making any changes. If you don’t mind spending some cash, PC Tool’s Registry Mechanic, TuneUp Utilities 2007 and Iolo’s System Mechanic 7.0 are excellent commercial registry cleaners.
Trim It Down
Once you have completed cleaning the junk on your computer, you need to turn off the bells and whistles on your computer. Have you ever noticed that after installing a new piece of software, a new icon appears on your system tray? It is very common for programs to add themselves to the startup program list. Ask yourself, do you really need Real Player to load at startup? Having to start so many programs takes time and resources. You need to cut down on the number of startup programs. Startup programs aren’t the only things which take up resources. Windows XP has a lot of eye candy. All those animations, fading toolbars and pretty icons make your desktop look great but slow down your computer. By cutting down on the number of special effects, you can free up CPU cycles and RAM. In addition, there are several Windows services working in the background. Many of which you don’t necessarily need. Microsoft tries to anticipate which services Windows users need. As a result, several services are turned on by default, some of which you don’t necessarily need. You can free up resources by disabling unnecessary services. This requires caution since disabling the wrong service might make your computer unstable or unusable.
Turn Off Unnecessary Startup Programs: To remove a program from the startup program list, go to Start > Run > type “msconfig” (without the quotation marks) > [Enter] > click on the Startup tab > uncheck any program you don’t want > [O.K.] > Restart. It might be difficult to identify a program solely by its name. You can find out what a particular program does by searching for it on Bleeping Computer’s Startup Program Database. Just type in the name and click [Search]. In the rare case where it can not identify the program, you can also search for it on CastleCops’ Startup Program Database or search for it on the Process Library website. There are a number of programs that you want always to keep, such as your antivirus program, anti spyware program and firewall.
Disable Visual Special Effects: The simplest thing to do is to remove the desktop background. You can trade in your Star Trek theme desktop background for something that doesn’t need as much resources. Go to Start > Control Panel > Display > click on the Desktop tab > select None > and select a color for the background. Next, move on to disabling visual effects. Right click My Computer > select Properties > click on the Advanced tab > under Performance, click [Settings] > click the Visual Effects tab > select Custom > uncheck any special effects you can do without > [O.K.]. Personally, I do away with everything except Show Window Content When Dragging and Show Shadow Under Mouse Pointer. You can experiment.
Disable Unnecessary Windows Services: Again, this is an area in Windows XP which you need to know exactly what you are doing. Turning off the wrong service can cripple your computer. Create a system restore point before making any changes. Once you are done, go to Start > Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Services. Things you need to know. Under status, if it says Started then the service is currently active. Under Startup Type, there are 3 possible values: (1) Automatic – the service is always on; (2) Manual – the service is turned on when needed; (3) Disable – the service is always off. Only change one service at a time. Keep a list of Windows services you have changed and their original settings. Consult online guides like The Elder Geek website for a description of each Windows service. Another good source is the Black Viper list hosted on MajorGeeks’ website. Determine if you need a particular Windows service or not. If you are not sure if you need a particular service, set it to Manual. If it is needed, the service will turn on by itself. To disable a service, right click the service and select "Stop." Right click the service again and select Properties > under Startup Type, select either "Disable" or "Manual" > [Apply] > [O.K.].
Lock It Up
Unfortunately, spyware is a very common cause of computer slow down. A decade ago, there was little spyware. Instead, your common hacker was a computer savvy teenager who created viruses for the purpose of bragging rights. These days, malicious files are created for the purpose of making money. For example, a third party hired by an ad agency might create an adware application which downloads itself on to your computer without your knowledge and consent. The adware then changes your web browser’s settings so the browser is redirected to the ad agency’s website. Another common tactic is to install spyware on your computer and steal all your user ids and passwords. To fight against these newest attacks, you need to add security software to protect your computer. All computers should have at least an antivirus program, anti spyware program and a firewall. There is no shortage of good free security software. Remember, free does not mean inferior. Please read my post of free security software. To secure your computer, you need to set Windows XP to automatically download and install Windows updates. In addition, you need to install and update your security software regularly, secure Internet Explorer and disable Windows components which pose a security risk.
Set Windows XP to Automatically Download and Install Windows Updates: This is the single most important step towards securing your computer. To turn on automatic updates, go to Start > Control Panel > Security Center > Automatic Updates > click [Turn on Automatic Updates].
Installing and Updating Your Antivirus and Anti spyware Software: Be it your antivirus or anti spyware, you need to update it regularly. Most antivirus and anti spyware programs have an automatic update function; be sure to turn it on. Antivirus and anti spyware programs need virus and spyware signatures to detect and remove the latest threats. In addition, try to use an antivirus which has heuristic capabilities. Heuristic scanning is different from regular virus scanning. It does not use virus signatures to detect malicious files; instead, it focuses on detecting behavior which is common to all viruses. This is great when a new virus signature is not available. I highly recommend Antivir, which offers both real time and on demand heuristic scanning. In regards to spyware, unlike antivirus programs, you can install more than 1 anti spyware program. In fact, it is advisable to do so. I use Lavasoft’s Ad Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy and Microsoft’s Windows Defender without any problems.
Install a Firewall: The function of a firewall is to monitor communication between your computer and the Internet. Ideally, you want the firewall to monitor both incoming and outgoing traffic. Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) comes with a firewall. If you haven’t already downloaded and installed SP2 then now it is a good time to do so. Unfortunately, the firewall is only unidirectional; it only monitors incoming traffic, which is less than ideal. Windows XP’s firewall assumes anything already running on your computer is safe and allows any of your computer’s applications to connect to the Internet. This is problematic. For example, let’s say a Trojan Horse was already on your computer when you installed SP2. Windows XP’s firewall will not stop it from collecting data from your computer and transmitting it to the Internet. There are several free bidirectional firewalls. I highly recommend Sunbelt-Kerio Firewall. Other good free firewalls are Comodo Firewall Pro and Jetico Firewall. These last 2 firewalls are more suited for advanced users since they will prompt a user to either allow or block a connection while Sunbelt-Kerio Firewall will make the decisions for you
Download signed ActiveX controls – [Prompt]
Download unsigned ActiveX controls – [Disable]
Initialize and script ActiveX controls not mark as safe – [Disable]
Run ActiveX controls and plugins – [Prompt]
Script ActiveX marked safe for scripting – [Prompt]
Active Scripting – [Prompt]
Allow Programmatic Clipboard Access – [Disable].
Remove Windows Services and Components which Pose a Security Risk: Unfortunately, Internet Explorer is not the only security risk in Windows XP. In fact, there are security vulnerabilities throughout the operating system. Microsoft included many services to Windows XP to provide users with more features; unfortunately, hackers have exploited these services to take control of your computer. For the best security, disable Windows services which allows remote access to your computer.
Remote Access Auto Connection Manager – [Manual]
Remote Desktop Help Session Manager – [Disable]
Remote Registry Service – [Disable]
Telnet – [Disable]
Terminal Service [Disable]
Universal Plug and Play Device Host – [Disable]
WebClient – [Disable].
Messenger (has nothing to do with MSN messenger) – [Disable]. (You can choose to uninstall Messenger, go to Start > Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs > Add/Remove Windows Component > select Messenger > Remove).
Friday, March 02, 2007
Mozilla has released the latest version of Thunderbird. The new version contains a few security fixes as well as some bug fixes. Users can choose to either download the complete installation file or use the "Check for Updates" feature found on the menu bar's Help Option. For more information on the changes, read the release notes.