Gizmo Richards' Support Alert Newsletter

"Gizmo's top picks of the best
Tech resources and utilities"

 Free Edition
Issue 130, 16th February, 2006 


IN THIS FREE ISSUE:

0. EDITORIAL: How to surf with complete security Part 2

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 The Best BitTorrent List
1.2 Smart Cookie Management
1.3 VPN the Easy Way
1.4 Google Introduces Chat from Within GMail
1.5 The Ultimate Shared Web Calendar?
1.6 Outstanding Set of Free Web Development Resources (SE)
1.7 How to Uninstall Internet Explorer 7 Beta (SE Edition)
1.8 Rootkits - The Musical (SE Edition)
1.9 How to Send an SMS Text Message via Google (SE Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Free Utility Improves Your Wi-Fi Security
2.2 Free Utility Fixes PC Problems
2.3 How to Print Lots of Documents Easily
2.4 Get JV16 PowerTools 2006 for Free
2.5 Free Service Rates Web Site Safety
2.6 Free Utility Helps Create a Perfect Group Photo (SE Edition)
2.7 Free Internet Traffic Monitor (SE Edition)
2.8 Free Utility Allows Voice Based Logon (SE Edition)
2.9 Best Free Parental Filter (SE Edition) Hot Find!
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security
3.2 Microsoft Antispyware Beta 2 Now Available
3.3 Microsoft OneCare Public Beta
3.4 Serious Flaw in WinAmp
3.5 Firefox V1.5.O.1 Released
3.6 The Fastest Browser Now Updated
3.7 New Preview Version of Opera 9
3.8 Top Process Viewer Updated
3.9 New Version of Top Free RSS Reader
3.10 Azureus BitTorrent V2.4 Released
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Charge Your Cell Phone or iPod Anywhere
4.2 Modifying Your iPod
4.3 RAW Format Explained
4.4 Practical How-to Meditation Guide
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.6 How to Trace an Email (SE Edition)
4.7 SpyBot's TeaTimer Explained (SE Edition)
4.8 Hidden FireFox/Mozilla Options (SE Edition)
4.9 How to Speed Up Your BitTorrent Downloads (SE Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Work With Audio CD .CDA Files
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 A Free Utility for Customizing the Places Bar
6.2 The Best Free Video Conversion Program (SE Edition) Great!
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION
0.0 EDITORIAL

Last month I showed you how to use the free VMWare Player to make your web surfing totally secure.

This month I'd like to show you another way of achieving the same thing by using a Linux "live" CD. For users with modern PCs and straight-forward broadband connections, it can be a simpler option than using VMWare yet delivers much the same security benefit.

A Linux live CD is a bootable CD that contains a special version of Linux that runs from the CD rather than your hard drive. It runs completely independently from your Windows installation and has no affect on it at all.

To run Linux from the live CD, you just put the live CD in the CD drive of your Windows PC and reboot. The CD installer will set up a fully working Linux session on your PC, complete with a web browser such as Firefox.

When you have finished your browsing session you can just shut down Linux, remove the live CD from the tray and reboot into Windows. Your Windows installation will be restored and not be affected in any way as no files from your Linux session will be left on your PC in a form recognizable by Windows.

This means all traces of any surfing from your Linux session will be erased when you reboot into Windows. Hence it's not possible to infect your Windows PC with spyware or any other nasty that you encountered while browsing the internet using Linux.

This sounds very attractive but I'm sure many readers will be wincing at the thought of using Linux. That's something they associate with techies and geeks.

There is an element of truth to that perception but luckily the latest Linux live CDs can be used pretty well by any experienced Windows user. You don't have to know anything about Linux commands or configuration to use the CDs as the installation routine handles just about everything automatically.

Unless that is, you have dial up connection, a complex networking setup or an old PC with non standard hardware.

Dial-up connections you'll have to set up manually. It's not too daunting though the unfamiliar Linux environment makes it seem harder than it really is. Ditto for networking.

Complex networking and hardware problems are however, far more challenging.

My advice is to try a live CD. If it works first-up on your PC then fine, you have an easy solution to secure surfing. If not, you'll have to decide whether it's worth effort to try and sort out the problems.

You have nothing to lose as you can get Linux Live CDs for free. Actually, there are lots of choices, covering dozens of different flavors of Linux.

For most Windows users I recommend the Ubuntu LiveCD. It's got a well sorted out automatic installation procedure, has a desktop that's recognizable to Windows users and has Firefox already installed.

For many users with standard systems, installation should be trouble free. Once the installation is completed all you have to do is to click the FireFox icon on the Ubuntu Gnome desktop to start your secure browsing session. It doesn't come any simpler than that.

The Ubuntu organization will send you a free LiveCD on request. They will even pay the shipping costs.

They will actually ship you two CDs: a LiveCD and a full Ubuntu Linux Install CD as well. Unless you want to get seriously into Linux I suggest you forget about using the full installation CD and just use the LiveCD.

When I boot from an Ubuntu LiveCD it takes only about 3 minutes to set up a Firefox session from the CD. That's not much slower than booting Windows from my hard drive!

Using Firefox from within Ubuntu is just like using Firefox from within Windows so there is no learning curve involved. Your surfing however, is completely safe and cannot affect your Windows PC.

Now that's a nice feeling.

You can request your Ubuntu CDs online from https://shipit.ubuntu.com/. Note that you have to create an account first.

The impatient can download a LiveCD ISO or Torrent here: http://mirror.mcs.anl.gov/pub/ubuntu-iso/5.10/ (627MB)

If you run into problems here are two useful guides:
http://www.ubuntu.com/support/faq
http://ubuntuguide.org/

See you next month.

Gizmo
editor@techsupportalert.com

PS This month I'm giving away six free copies of the the top rated Anti virus NOD32 plus lots of Google GMail invites. For details, see below.

Support Alert relies on paid subscriptions to survive. If you feel that you've benefited from reading this newsletter perhaps you would like to consider donating by subscribing to the premium "Supporters' Edition" of this newsletter.

The Premium SE Edition contains almost twice the number of great tech sites, free utilities, tips and other content as the free edition. It's also ad-free.

You'll also get immediate access to the archive of all past issues of the Premium Supporters' Edition of the newsletter where you can catch up on the hundreds of great utilities you missed in the free edition. The SE Edition is a great deal and at $10 per year it's a bargain.

This month I'm giving away to new subscribers, six free copies of the the top rated Anti virus NOD32.

NOD32 is a brilliant program for protecting your PC yet it only consumes a modest amount of your computing resources. That's why I use it on my key work computers. At $39 it's good value but it's even better value when you can get it for free.

The six copies I'm giving away will be allocated at random but your chances of scoring one are actually quite good. So if you have been thinking of subscribing, now's the time.

I'm also giving away invites to Google Gmail to new SE subscribers. Last month everyone who wanted one got one and I expect the same to happen this month. Just email me at editor@techsupportalert.com after subscribing to the Premium SE Edition and I'll send your invitation.

Even if you don't win anything you'll still get my special report "Gizmo's Desert Island Utilities" which outlines the software I use myself, including many free product

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE PREMIUM SE EDITION

12 months subscription to the Supporters' Edition costs $10 which can be made by check or credit card using either ClickBank or PayPal or simply send cash.

Use the link below to subscribe now:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/se-edition.htm

1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 The Best BitTorrent List

This list is simply sensational. It not only lists lots of sites but categorizes them under headings such as: Educational, Trackers, Private Trackers, Sports, Television and more. A mandatory bookmark for torrent fans.
http://web-of-knowledge.blogspot.com/2006/02/torrents-sites-general-httpweb1.html

1.2 Smart Cookie Management

It's hard to surf without accepting cookies as many sites simply won't work unless you have them enabled. You can overcome this in Internet Explorer by employing a little known technique based on a customized privacy import file. With such a file you can do all sorts of fancy tricks. One of my favorites is converting all cookies into "session cookies" i.e. cookies that are erased as soon as you leave the site that created them. This gives you the best of both worlds: you have full access to all sites but have no cookies left on your PC. Subscriber Vic Laurie shows you how to do this at his excellent computer education site. It's easier for Firefox users; just go to Tools / Options / Privacy / Cookies and set "Keep Cookies" to "Until I close Firefox."
http://www.vlaurie.com/computers2/Articles/custom_privacy_file.htm

1.3 VPN the Easy Way

Hamachi [1] is a free Virtual Private Network system that's getting a lot of attention because it's relatively easy to set up. It's even easier if you use this guide [2].
[1] http://www.hamachi.cc/
[2] http://www.itsatechworld.com/2006/01/17/hamachi-vpn-solution/

1.4 Google Introduces Chat from Within GMail

Google is progressively rolling out to USA-English users, a beta version of a new GMail chat feature that allows you to talk with anyone connected to the Google Chat network or compatible network. The integration works very well; To contact someone, just hover the cursor over an email or contact and a window pops up asking whether you want to chat or email the person. If you select chat, an invitation is sent to the recipient. If they accept, a green ball appears next to their name and a special chat window pops up. You don't even need the Google Chat client installed to use the service though it is required for voice contact. Chats can also be saved and searched from within GMail, just like email. Quite impressive really. To use Google Chat you'll need IE6 or Firefox 1+. If you use the later you may have to disenable the AdBlock extension as it interferes with the Google service.
http://mail.google.com/support/bin/topic.py?topic=8405

1.5 The Ultimate Shared Web Calendar?

Subscriber Jim Kelly writes "Any of your subscribers who are into social calendaring should check out 30boxes. If you and your buddies sign up, you can each set on an individual basis, what events on your calendars you share. It also features integration with Flickr, MySpace and other web sources." Nice find Jim; it's got a simple user interface, an expanding list of third party plug-ins and it's free. I do wish though, that it offered an integrated reminder system along the lines of BackPackIt [2]. Readers interested in web calendaring should also check out Plaxo [3].
[1] http://30boxes.com/
[2] http://backpackit.com/
[3] http://www.plaxo.com/

** Additional Items in the Premium SE Edition **

1.6 Outstanding Set of Free Web Development Resources

1.7 How to Uninstall Internet Explorer 7 Beta

1.8 Rootkits - The Musical

1.9 How to Send an SMS Text Message via Google

Got some great tech sites to suggest? Send them to: editor@techsupportalert.com

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2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 Free Utility Improves Your Wi-Fi Security

Public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously insecure; so insecure that I wont use them. The classic way to improve your Wi-Fi security is to set up a virtual private network (VPN) connection but this isn't easy to do. A new and simpler alternative is to use TorPark, a pre-configured version of the anonymizing program Tor, combined with the Firefox browser, that's setup for operation from a USB Flash drive. I tried it out on my laptop and found it surprisingly easy to use though, as with all anonymizing services, my browsing speed through the network of chained Tor servers was slowed considerably. Another restriction is that TorPark won't currently help with your email security. That apparently is planned for an upcoming version. Overall, it's a very useful free security product that is well worth trying. A warning: please don't use a TorPark Flash drive at Internet Cafes or public terminals with the expectation that it will protect you from hardware keyloggers. It won't, simple as that. Freeware, Windows 95 and later, 8MB
http://www.freehaven.net/%7Earrakis/torpark.html

2.2 Free Utility Fixes PC Problems

Dial-a-fix is an interesting product that bundles together a large number of fixes to known Windows problems as documented in many different Microsoft Knowledgebase articles. These problems fall into five specific areas: Scripting, the Windows Installer, Windows Update, Secure site problems and Program registration. The last area includes specific fixes for Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player problems. If you have problems in any of these areas you should check this utility out. I've now used it successfully on two machines with IE problems, so it's become a standard item in my tool kit. Note though, that this program is intended to be used only on machines with known problems in the designated areas, so read the online notes before using. If your PC is running fine, you don't need it and may risk actually causing problems. Recommended for experienced users only. Freeware, Windows 9x and later, 261KB.
http://djlizard.net/software/dial-a-fix/

2.3 How to Print Lots of Documents Easily

Subscriber Steve Duncan recently wrote "Gizmo I work at a school that has over 700 students that need individual reports printed. As you can imagine printing 700+ word documents takes ages. So I found this free program, Print Conductor that allows you to print large numbers of individual files, without opening each document. It even allows you to change settings on the printer before it runs the print job and even better you can save the list of documents that need printing and later on import the list back into the program. It prints Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word DOC, Microsoft Excel XLS, Autodesk AutoCAD DWG, and Microsoft PowerPoint PPT. It's also great for converting large numbers of documents to PDF using a virtual printer. Hope you find this of some use to your subscribers, it has changed a 2 day process for the schools admin down to a couple of hours." Great find Steve, I'm sure a lot of readers will be able to put this to good use. Freeware, 548KB.
http://www.print-conductor.com/

2.4 Get JV16 PowerTools 2006 for Free

JV16 started life as a free registry cleaner but has been expanded over the years to become a complete commercial system utility suite comprising of a registry editor, registry monitor, a file cleaner, duplicate file finder and more. The latest 2006 version is now in late beta testing but is available for public download on a 30 day trial basis. It contains full working versions of 23 separate tools though the centerpiece remains the excellent registry cleaner. At $29.95 the final version will be very competitively priced, but you may be able to get it for free if you participate in the beta program. You can do this by subscribing to the beta tester's newsletter [1]. It's up to the company whether they accept you as a beta tester but it's well worth a try. Remember this is only a beta version so don't carry out any critical operations such as registry cleaning until the final version is released. All versions of Windows, 1.09MB
[1] http://www.macecraft.com/newsletter/

2.5 Free Service Rates Web Site Safety

A number of subscribers have written in about a new web service called SiteAdvisor that helps surfers assess the safety and security of sites they visit. The company claims to have compiled information on more than one billion sites by visiting the sites and checking whether any download from the site contains spyware and other nasties. They also sign up to any email offering from the site and then monitor for any subsequent spam. To access this database you will need to install a free Internet Explorer add-in or Firefox extension. Then, whenever you visit any site, your browser will display a color coded security rating for that site. More details about the site are available by clicking on the warning bar. A really nice feature is that the site ratings are also shown alongside Google or Yahoo search results. This really helps you avoid accidentally visiting dangerous and hostile sites when surfing. I've been using it for a couple of weeks now and for a beta, it works very well. Yes, some sites are unrated and yes, I quibbled with some of the ratings given and yes, it could slow browsing for users with slow connections. That said, SiteAdvisor offers a valuable contribution to browsing security and is a must-have for many users. The service is currently free, though you need to register. It's also currently without ads but I suspect it may not stay that way. A word of warning: however useful SiteAdvisor may be, it's best employed as an additional security measure and shouldn't be seen as a replacement for primary security or plain old common sense. Don't, for example, feel free to download a "free toolbar" from a site just because that site is rated OK by this product. That's asking for trouble.
http://www.siteadvisor.com/

** Additional Items in the Premium SE Edition **

2.6 Free Utility Helps Create a Perfect Group Photo

2.7 Free Internet Traffic Monitor

2.8 Free Utility Allows Voice Based Logon

2.9 Best Free Parental Filter  Hot Find!

Got some top utilities to suggest? Send them to
editor@techsupportalert.com

3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES

3.1 Microsoft Security

MS released seven new patches in February as part of their regular monthly cycle. Two of these are rated critical. The first is a cumulative Internet Explorer Update that fixes a problem in the Graphics Rendering Engine that could allow remote code execution by simply viewing a specially crafted image file. This flaw has been known for a while and it's comforting to see that it's finally been fixed. The second critical fix repairs a serious flaw in Windows Media Player versions 7.1 through to 10 that could allow an attacker to take control of your PC. Full details can be found in the MS Bulletin [1]. Patches for both flaws are being distributed via Windows Update. If you are in any doubt whether your PC has been patched please visit the Windows Update service [2] now.
[1] http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/update/bulletins/default.mspx
[2] http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 Microsoft Antispyware Beta 2 Now Available

A new beta version of MS Antispyware has just been released under the new name Windows Defender [1]. I haven't had a look at it yet but according to MS the new version has enhanced performance through a new scanning engine, a simpler interface, a warning system that rates the severity of threats plus improvements in Spyware detection and removal. Sounds promising but I'll know more next month after I've had a chance to test it. PC Magazine has done its own tests on a pre-release version and their reviewers were not impressed [2]. Free beta software, Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP SP2 , 6.4 MB - 14.3 MB
[1] http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx
[2] http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1926596,00.asp

3.3 Microsoft OneCare Public Beta

Microsoft has also announced the public beta release of its new all-in-one OneCare security product that includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, a firewall, backup and more. The final version when released in June this year will be sold on an annual $50 subscription basis but you can try the beta for free. My advice is don't. The reception has been uniformly bad with reports of broken systems, false positives and missed detections abounding. Worse still, it appears to be just a kludging together of separate products rather than the unified security solution promised.
http://www.windowsonecare.com/

3.4 Serious Flaw in WinAmp

Nullsoft, the maker of the popular WinAmp media player has released a patch for a serious flaw in versions 5.11 and 5.12 of the player that could allow an attacker to take control of your PC by simply playing specially crafted songs on a WinAmp playlist. There are a number of malicious websites already exploiting this flaw. Anyone running an affected version of WinAmp could have their PC compromised simply by visiting one of these sites. All users of WinAmp should upgrade to V5.13 immediately
http://secunia.com/advisories/18649/
http://www.winamp.com/player/

3.5 Firefox V1.5.O.1 Released

The latest update includes fixes for memory leaks, improved stability plus a number of unspecified security problems. Unfortunately within a few days of the release someone reverse engineered one of the security fixes and created a working exploit that is now circulating on the web. It doesn't affect V1.5.0.1 but earlier versions are vulnerable so make sure your PC is updated. Most Firefox users will have had the update automatically downloaded to their PC. If not, visit the Mozilla site and download the latest version now.
http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/ (5.0MB)

3.6 The Fastest Browser Now Updated

The K-Meleon browser is a slimmed down cousin of Firefox that's optimized for Windows. Of the four browsers I use regularly, K- Meleon is the fastest loading and along with Opera, the fastest for surfing. On the downside there are only a limited number of add-ons and plug-ins available so you are pretty well limited to the features available in the standard product. The latest 0.9 version was released on the 18th of January. This updates the product to the Mozilla 1.7.5 code-base and adds a whole batch of new features including an RSS reader and privacy plug-in. If you are the type of person who prefers performance to bells and whistles you should definitely try K-Meleon. Freeware, all Windows versions though early versions may require a library update, 6.0 MB.
http://kmeleon.sourceforge.net/

3.7 New Preview Version of Opera 9

The second Technology Preview release of Opera 9 adds a whole batch of new features including BitTorrent searching and downloading, content-blocking, widgets, enhanced CSS support and much more. I've been using it on one of my PCs and have been really impressed; if this thing gets much better I'm going to have to give away Firefox!
http://snapshot.opera.com/windows/w90p2.html

3.8 Top Process Viewer Updated

SysInternals Process Explorer has long been one of my favorite free process viewers. The latest V10 release includes dozens of small enhancements rather than new features. The result is an outstanding free product that leaves Windows Task Manager looking brain damaged by comparison.
http://www.sysinternals.com/Utilities/ProcessExplorer.html

3.9 New Version of Top Free RSS Reader

With the latest V2.13 release, BlogBridge, one of the top free standing RSS readers, just got even better. Despite the unimpressive looking version numbering, the 2.13 release is actually a major upgrade. The most important new feature is the addition of "Reading Lists" which are collections of items that you can share with others. Also new is a cleanup wizard, better synchronization across several computers plus a host of usability and interface improvements. If you haven't yet tried RSS, BlogBridge is a great way to investigate the medium without spending a cent. Free, Open Source, BlogBridge, Windows XP, Mac OS X, Linux, 3.8MB.
http://blogbridge.com/

3.10 Azureus BitTorrent V2.4 Released

The latest version of the top rated Azureus BitTorrent client includes various performance and improvements, basic support for WebSeeds plus high speed LAN transfers. However the most important enhancement is the ability to encrypt data between Azureus and other compatible clients. This provides better protection of data and can help overcome the blockages and restrictions imposed by some ISPs on peer-to-peer traffic. Free open source software, requires Java JRE 1.5, 7.4MB.
http://azureus.sourceforge.net


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The Best SpyWare Detector
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4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 Charge Your Cell Phone or iPod Anywhere

The Solar Style SC003 is a PDA sized solar panel designed to re- charge mobile devices. Even if there is no sun you can recharge your devices from the internal battery, which in turn, can be pre-charged from a car cigarette lighter or from a wall socket. The SC003 comes with lots of different connectors for Samsung, Sony-Ericsson, Nokia, and Motorola products and more. The MRP is $35.99.
http://solarstyle.com/detail.php?ID=2

4.2 Modifying Your iPod

This page from WikiPedia offers a terrific collection of iPod hacks "to aid users in using their iPod more efficiently, or to customize their product, making it more individual or for novelty purposes."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPod_Hacks

4.3 RAW Format Explained

RAW format is widely used in more expensive digital cameras and offers serious snappers some real advantages over JPG and other compressed formats. If your camera supports RAW, you should check out this wonderfully informative article from Adobe. It's a PDF file so right click the link and select "Save as .."
http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/pdfs/understanding_digitalrawcapture.pdf

4.4 Practical How-to Meditation Guide

If you want to get the benefits of meditation without the mumbo- jumbo, then check out this free guide.
http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma4/mpe.html

4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department

Part of the fun with this game [1] is working out what to do. Once you do, it's totally addictive. The next two links [2], [3] are to simple Flash games each so captivating that I fear the national productivity index is destined for a sharp decline.
[1] http://chir.ag/stuff/sand/
[2] http://pointlessaudiogaming.blogspot.com/2006/02/space-worms_01.html
[3] http://www.iol.ie/~dluby/escape.htm (the record is 28 seconds)

** Additional Items in the Premium SE Edition **

4.6 How to Trace an Email

4.7 SpyBot's TeaTimer Explained

4.8 Hidden FireFox/Mozilla Options

4.9 How to Speed Up Your BitTorrent Downloads


5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Work With Audio CD .CDA Files

If you view the contents of an audio CD from Windows, you'll see that it contains a number of .CDA files each corresponding to a song track. (CDA BTW, stands for Compact Disk Audio)

I regularly get letters from subscribers asking why they can't copy these files to their PC rather than first having to rip them to .WAV files.

It's a good question with a simple answer: there are no .CDA files on a CD. In fact, from a Windows perspective, there are no "files" at all.

An audio CD differs greatly from your hard drive or floppy disk drive in the way information is stored.

These devices store data in concentric rings called tracks. In contrast, audio CDs store data in a continuous spiral starting from the inside of the CD and ending at the outer edge of the CD. Kind of like a vinyl LP in reverse.

The format of the data stored on CDs is also quite different; it's a raw 16 bit digital PCM stream rather than a format that can be recognized by a Windows PC.

So what are .CDA files that you see on an audio CD?

These files are created by the Windows CD driver. They are simply representations of the CD audio tracks and are not actually on the CD.

Each .CDA file is a kind of a pointer to the location of a specific track on the CD and contains no musical information. They are all 44 bytes in length and each contain track times plus a special Windows shortcut that allows users to access the specific audio tracks.

So if .CDA files contain no musical information, what happens if you "copy" a .CDA from an audio CD to your hard drive and then double click it?

If the CD is still in the drive then the corresponding track will play from the CD. If you remove the CD you will get an error message. That's because the .CDA file contain no music, it only point to where the music is located on the CD.

To work with audio files on your CD you need first to convert them to .WAV, .MP3 or another file format that computers understand. That's what a CD ripper does and that's why you must use a ripper before you can work with your audio files. Simple as that.

6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 A Free Utility for Customizing the Places Bar

Here's a simple utility that only performs one task but boy, is it useful.

The Places Bar is a productivity enhancement added to Windows ME and present in all Windows versions since. It's the left hand pane that appears in the standard Windows File/Open-Save dialog. If this doesn't ring a bell, try opening Internet Explorer and select File/Open/Browse. Once you see the Places Bar you'll recognize it immediately and realize that it's used by many different programs, not just IE.

Now by default the Places Bar contains shortcuts to History, My Documents, Desktop, My Computer and My Network Places. There is however, no option offered to customize these options to include your own favorite folders or places.

You can do this manually by editing the Windows Registry, using the Group Policy Editor or from TweakUI tools. However the easiest way is to use the free PlacesBar Constructor utility, which allows you to substitute folders of your choice for any of the default folders by using a simple click and point interface.

Using PlacesBar Constructor I've changed the default "History" folder to my "Program Files" folder, which I use more often. I've also changed "My Network Places" to the "My Webs" folder for the same reason.

These simple changes save me multiple clicks every time I open a document or save a file. Further, there is no performance penalty or other downside. That's why PlacesBar Constructor is such a gem.

Two notes: First, be aware that Microsoft Office documents have their own Places Bar. You can't change this with PlacesBar Constructor but you can change it from the Office Tools menu.

Second, it's useful to be able to change the Places Bar, but it would be even more useful to be able to change the Other Places folder in the Common Tasks pane in the normal Windows XP folder view. Alas, I've never been able to find a way of doing it.

If any one knows how, please write and I'll publish it. You'll get ever-lasting fame plus a free lifetime subscription to the Premium SE Edition of this newsletter ;>)

PlacesBar Constructor, freeware, Windows ME or later, 460KB.
http://www.boyarick.net/placesbar.html

** Bonus Freebie in the Premium SE Edition **

6.2 The Best Free Video Conversion Program  Great!

Wouldn't it be neat to be able to convert any kind of video files to a format you can use on your PSP, iPod or mobile phone?

I've found a great free utility that allows you to do pretty well all of these things and more.

It has two great strengths: first it's relatively easy to use and secondly it handles a large number of different file formats. It handles 3gp/3g2 (Nokia, Siemens, Sony, Ericsson), asf, avi (DivX, H263, H263+, H264, Xvid, MPEG4, MSmpeg4 etc), dat, fli, flc, flv (used in Flash), mkv, mpg (Mpeg I, Mpeg II), mov (H263, H263+, H264, MPEG4 etc), mp4 (H263, H263+, H264, MPEG4), ogg, qt, rm, ram, rmvb, str (Play Station), swf (Flash), ts (HDTV), viv, vob, and wmv.

It also handles audio file format conversion including ac3, amr, mp2, mp3, mp4, ogg, ra, wav, and wma.

Am I impressed? You bet; I've seen commercial software with fewer features selling for over$100. Be aware though, that video conversion by its very nature requires a lot of processing power and can be very slow on older PCs.

... full details in the Premium SE Edition of this newsletter.


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NOD32 is a brilliant program for protecting your PC yet it only consumes a modest amount of your computing resources. That's why I use it on my key work computers. At $39 it's good value but it's even better value when you can get it for free.

The six copies I'm giving away will be allocated at random but your chances of scoring one are actually quite good. So if you have been thinking of subscribing, now's the time.

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See you next issue

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com