gizmo richards' support alert newsletter

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

 Free Edition
Issue 157, 15th May, 2008

If you have problems reading this newsletter in your email program you can read it online in your browser at http://techsupportalert.com/issues/al_current.htm

IN THIS FREE EDITION:

0. EDITORIAL: What to do if you Think Your PC is Infected

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 New Freeware Site is Big Hit
1.2 Call for Help: Volunteers Needed
1.3 Find Out if Your PC is Part of a Botnet
1.4 Convert Your Browser to 3D
1.5 Microsoft and Google Move Toward Cloud Computing
1.6 Free Online Service Removes Line Breaks from Text and More
1.7 More Free Abandoned Software
1.8 Best Free Notes Organizer Gets Even Better (Premium Edition)
1.9 Microsoft Offers Lifeline for Office 2007 Users (Premium Edition)
1.10 Free Electronic Research Assistant (Premium Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Make Your Screen Colors More Accurate
2.2 The Last Word on Text to Voice Utilities
2.3 How to Create Custom Keyboards
2.4 Seven Commercial PDF to Doc Converters Tested
2.5 Free Archiving Program Offers Ease of Use
2.6 Briard's Take on the Latest Version of Ubuntu
2.7 Get Fix-It Utilities V7 for Free (Premium Edition)
2.8 Free Helpdesk Utility Allows Bulk Password Resets (Premium Edition)
2.9 Free Fax for Windows Vista (Premium Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 Utility Removes Old Java Versions and Checks for Updates
3.3 AVG Version 8 Free Released - Gizmo's Recommendations
3.4 A Security Trap You May Have Never Thought About
3.5 Windows XP SP3 Finally Released
3.6 A New Security Threat: The US Government
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Logo Contest for New Wiki Site: Try Your Artistic Skills
4.2 Free Utility Lets You Play Old DOS Games
4.3 The 46 Best Freeware List Now in Chinese
4.4 Free Legal Information on the Web
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.6 Encrypted USB Drive Works on Limited Rights PCs (Premium )
4.7 The Next Generation of Browsers (Premium Edition)
4.8 Get Kaspersky AV, WinRar, Avira Premium for Free (Premium Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 The Quick Way to Safely Remove USB Drives
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 Another Way to Share Files with Friends
6.2 Zero Effort Way to Shrink Photos for Emailing (Premium Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

0.0 EDITORIAL

Every week I get letters from subscribers who are worried that their PC may have become infected after they've downloaded and installed a program.

Many of these so called "infected download" problems are due to a security scanner claiming a program is infected when in reality it is not; that is, a "false positive." While this doesn't worry experienced PC users, it certainly scares the hell out of the average Joe or Jane.

These false positives have become increasingly common as security vendors employ "behavior-based" checking to augment their signature scanners.

Behavior-based checking works on the principle "if it acts like malware it probably is malware." All too commonly, it isn't.

Despite the fact that false positives are common, you still need to follow up on suspected problems, because malware infections are also common. So if you fail to investigate, you will never know if the problem is real or just a figment of your security program's imagination.

Here's Gizmo's simple, zero-cost, three-step procedure to follow next time you feel your PC might have become infected as the result of installing a program you downloaded.

(a) First, upload the installation file of the program you installed to Jotti.org [1] for a free scan. Jotti will then run it through more than a dozen malware scanners and let you know if there is a problem.

If Jotti determines that your file is clean, it doesn't mean that there is no infection. It simply means that it's unlikely there is an infection, and that folks, is a very comforting finding.

(b) Download and run the free Panda Rootkit detector [2]. Again, a clean scan is not a 100% guarantee of no infection, but should add greatly to your confidence. Panda doesn't run on Vista, so Vista users should use the BlackLight [3] anti-rootkit scanner instead.

(c) Finally, download HijackThis from this page [4], and follow the instructions on the same page which tell you how to create a log that you can paste to web forums.

There are several forums where you can post. You can find two here [5], [6] and many more by doing a Google search on "Post HiJackThis log". Tell the forum helpers you have already done a Jotti scan and a rootkit scan, and let them know what the results of these scans were.

The folks in the forum will then let you know if you have a problem. If you do, they will also be able to tell you how you can get rid of it permanently. And it won't cost you a cent.

Now in most cases you will find that nothing shows up with Jotti, the rootkit scan or HiJackThis. That's good news. OK, you have spent some of your time chasing a false lead, but that's a lot better than having an infected PC and doing nothing about it.

[1] http://virusscan.jotti.org/
[2] http://www.majorgeeks.com/Panda_Anti-Rootkit_d5457.html
[3] http://www.antirootkit.com/software/F-Secure-BlackLight-Beta.htm
[4] http://www.whatthetech.com/hijackthis/
[5] http://www.techsupportforum.com/security-center/hijackthis-log-help/
[6] http://forum.piriform.com/index.php?showforum=12


See you next month.

Gizmo
editor@techsupportalert.com

PS This month I'm giving away six free copies of the top rated anti-virus NOD32. For details, see below.

Support Alert is not produced by a giant publishing empire, it's the work of one man, working alone, namely me.

Support Alert relies on paid subscriptions to the Premium Edition to survive. If you feel that you've benefited from reading the free edition perhaps you would like to consider subscribing to the Premium.

The Premium 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.

When you subscribe you'll also get immediate access to the archive of all past issues of the Premium Edition where you can catch up on the hundreds of great utilities you missed in the free edition. If you like the free edition you'll love the premium. At $10 per year it's just the cost of a few coffees.

This month I'm giving away to new Premium subscribers, six free copies of 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. Note this offer is only valid in jurisdictions that permit such offers.

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 products.

How to subscribe to the Premium Edition: 12 months subscription to the Premium Edition costs $10 which can be made by credit card, PayPal or eCheck. Use the link below to subscribe now:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/se-edition.htm


1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 Gizmo's New Freeware Site Goes Live

Users' reactions to the demonstration version of our new wiki style "Best-ever Freeware" site have been wildly enthusiastic.

Typical comments have been "much more comprehensive", "far easier to use" and "a wonderful gift for all freeware users." Many thanks to all those who visited and left comments.

On Sunday the 11th 11th of May I shutdown the old techsupportalert.com site and took the new wiki style site live. So now when you type techsupportalert.com into your browser you'll go straight to the new wiki-style freeware site. The old site is dead.

The new wiki site has some really big advantages for users:

  • There is now only one freeware list, because the "46 Best-ever Freeware" list and "Extended list" have been combined into one big list of 120+ software categories. And it's available to all users not just subscribers.
  • You can now locate software more quickly because it is indexed by broad software class. So, if you are looking for a firewall, simply click "Security Software." Alternatively, you can locate what you want using the site search feature.
  • You can still casually browse the long, single page "46 Best-ever Freeware" list but now it is contains over 120 categories not 46!
  • You can read users comments and suggestions in addition to our reviews.
  • You can access the site forums where you can seek help on freeware installation problems or ask about a freeware program you are seeking.

Most of the popular articles and tutorials on the old site have been moved across to the new wiki site but it will take me a few weeks to move them all. So expect an occasional "404 Page not found" errors until I complete the job.

Premium subscribers can access the Supporters' Area from the new site by using the Premium login link on the top right of the screen.

Don't try logging in to the Premium area using the standard site login link; it won't work. That's only for folks who want to edit the site content wiki-style or want their signature to appear at the end of comments. If you want to do these things you will need to separately register at the site. It quick and its free.

Come and pay us a visit, we'd love to see you. With hundreds of great freebies available, you won't go away empty handed. If you have any suggestions for the site leave them on the forums.

http://www.techsupportalert.com

1.2 Call for Help: Volunteers Needed
Are you an experienced computer user? Then perhaps you would like to help contribute to the new freeware wiki project by becoming a moderator for a particular software category. It's your chance to be an internet giver not just a taker and besides you will have a lot of fun mixing it with me and the other category editors while working on this exciting project. Come on Guys and Gals, join in. More details here:
http://techsupportalert.com/dr/category-editors-page

1.3 Find Out if Your PC is Part of a Botnet

It is estimated than more than 50 million PCs around the world are now silently controlled by spammers and criminal gangs. These "zombie" PCs as they are called, are just normal PCs owned by Moms and Pops that have been taken over by malware secretly downloaded onto the PCs using web exploits, infected emails and more.

These zombies are organized in vast networks called botnets with each botnet owned and controlled remotely by different criminal groups. The most common use of botnets is sending spam.

Most zombie owners don't even know their PC is under the control of someone else. That's where this program from Trend Micro is useful:

"RUBotted is a free program that monitors your computer for suspicious activities and regularly checks with an online service to identify behavior associated with Bots. Upon discovering a potential infection, RUBotted prompts you to scan and clean your computer."

http://www.trendsecure.com/portal/en-US/tools/security_tools/rubotted

1.4 Convert Your Browser to 3D
SpaceTime is a free application that replaces your browser tabs with a series of stacked and rotatable 3D panes. SpaceTime also has some special built-in features which optimize the effectiveness of common web tasks, such as Google, eBay and YouTube searches. For example, with a Google search the web pages found by the first few search hits will be fetched, stacked in 3D, and ready for you to quickly scan. There is much to like here. SpaceTime requires Windows 2000 or later, a reasonably fast PC, and a good internet connection. Thanks to Lex Davidson for the link.
http://www.spacetime.com

1.5 Microsoft and Google Move Toward Cloud Computing

Microsoft has announced a Beta website [1] for its grandiose Mesh Network that promises to provide online access to your desktop and files, and sync this across your PC and mobile devices. We have been promised this before by Microsoft [2] so it's nothing to get very excited about.

I'm more impressed with Google's incremental approach than another grand Microsoft scheme. Since the end of March they have been progressively rolling out offline access to Google Docs word-processing [3] along with seamless on-line synchronizing using Google Gears.

In plain English that means you can either write online or offline using Google Docs and it doesn't matter as the results will be automatically synchronized when you go online. It's just only works for Docs at the moment but other apps will follow.

I tried it and it essentially provides all I need, and unlike Microsoft's offering, it's here now. Well, almost here. It will only be here for you when you see the "Offline" option appear in the upper right-hand toolbar when you login to Google Apps. Thanks to JW for link [2].

[1] https://www.mesh.com/Welcome/Welcome.aspx
[2] http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2008/05/01.html
[3] http://googledocs.blogspot.com/2008/03/bringing-cloud-with-you.html

1.6 Free Online Service Removes Line Breaks from Text and More
Ever wanted to remove hard line breaks in some text? Want to convert all uppercase text to lowercase? Need to strip out tabs? You can do all of this and more for free using this terrific online service. Definitely worth bookmarking.
http://www.textfixer.com/tools/remove-line-breaks.php

1.7 More Free Abandoned Software
In the April issue I mentioned a great site [1] which offered aging commercial software that had been abandoned and was now free. This prompted subscriber Mark Lynch to write "Hey, thanks for the link to the abandonware site, but for games, this abandonware site [2] has a much better offering with more games and no download limits. The other one only gives you a game a day after the initial three, which is a little frustrating." Thanks Mark, it does seem to have a good game selection. However I don't regard sites like these as 100% trusted sources, so I advise you send anything you download for malware testing prior to installation. For testing I recommend both Jotti [3] and Virus Total [4]. Both are free.
[1] http://www.vetusware.com/
[2] http://abandonia.com/
[3] http://virusscan.jotti.org/
[4] http://www.virustotal.com/

** These items appear only in the Premium Edition **

1.8 Best Free Notes Organizer Gets Even Better

1.9 Microsoft Offers Lifeline for Office 2007 Users

1.10 Free Electronic Research Assistant


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 Make Your Screen Colors More Accurate
Calibrize is a free utility that allows you to adjust your monitor to show colors (and monochrome) more accurately. It's a simple three step process that takes less than a minute. A lot of fancier programs are available, but they're geared more to the needs of photographers and pre-press publication personnel than to average users. For most folks this program is all they need. Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 1.15MB.
http://www.calibrize.com/index.html

2.2 The Last Word on Text to Voice Utilities

In the last two issues we have looked at both free and commercial utilities in this class. Generally the free versions have been disappointing in voice quality and ease of use. "Tolerable" is the word that comes to mind and even that might be stretching the point.

The two best commercial offerings, TextAloud and Natural Reader, use custom "voices" rather the robotic-sounding free voices from Microsoft, and they sound great. In fact, their voice quality exceeded my expectations. Both are also vastly more convenient to use than the freebies.

Subscriber Paul Harke recently wrote summarizing his experience with these products and I agree with him totally. On this note we will now put this subject to bed.

"I own and have extensive experience with both NaturalReader and TextAloud. I also have many additional quality voices, from vendors including AT&T Natural Voices (not associated with NaturalReader), NeoSpeech, acapela, and Realspeak.

Customer service from both has been good. Customer service from NextUp (TextAloud) has been phenomenal, not to mention user forums for both basic and advanced users, and occasional newsletters.

As both use the same voices, the sound is fundamentally the same between the two. The short comparison is:

  • NaturalReader is easy to install, configure, and use is more intuitive. It handles basic TTS tasks beautifully. I have also found it to be slightly less stable than TextAloud.
  • TextAloud does everything NaturalReader does, and a tremendous amount more. It is neither as aesthetically pleasing nor as intuitive as NaturalReader. It has the blocky, unrefined look that I associate with applications written in Delphi. (Though I don't know what the actual development environment is.)

I consider TextAloud to be the "power tool" of Text-To-Speech (TTS). I am not going to try to list all the features, but to me TextAloud is to NaturalReader, what UltraEdit is to Windows Notepad. Unlike NaturalReader, it is suitable for drafting and creation of custom TTS voice productions. For example I use it with both German and English voices to create educational MP3s. It includes a small scripting language and Regular Expression based text manipulation."

[1] http://www.naturalreaders.com/ Shareware from $39.50, Windows 98-Vista, application 9.2MB, voices 200MB+
[2] http://www.nextup.com/TextAloud/index.html Shareware, 20 day trial, Windows 98-Vista, application 3.1MB, voices 200MB+

2.3 How to Create Custom Keyboards
Subscriber Swami Mahayogananda writes "Gizmo, Microsoft has a wonderful free download called Keyboard Layout Creator. You can use it to tweak your keyboard by adding special characters, or change the layout completely. One particularly useful function is the so-called "dead key". Any key can be made a dead key. We use the slash: typing slash twice makes a slash. But typing the slash once followed by another key makes a special character, whatever you want." Nice find, Swami, a lot of users will find this a most useful program. I could have used it last year in an internet cafe in Morocco that used a French-Arabic keyboard. It still had the normal QWERTY layout but several other keys were transposed; for example the "L" key and "M" had swapped positions. This thing was a total brain destroyer. It would have been much better if every key was moved. It was so mind-muddling that in the end the only way I could handle it was to type with one finger. And no, I hadn't been smoking exotic Moroccan "herbs." :>) Freeware, Windows 2000-> Vista plus .NET 2.0 framework, 10.1MB.
http://www.microsoft.com/globaldev/tools/msklc.mspx

2.4 Seven Commercial PDF to Doc Converters Tested

Last month I looked at free PDF to DOC options. At the end of that article I asked subscribers with commercial products to download my test PDF file and send the converted DOC files to me so I could compare the commercial product performance with the freebies.

I received over 30 files covering seven different commercial products. Many thanks to all those who participated. The results were fascinating:

First, no product did a perfect job on the conversion.

Second, the products varied markedly in what they did well and what they did poorly - there was no single area wherein all products consistently performed well or poorly.

Third, the most expensive product, Adobe Acrobat Pro, produced one the worst results. (To be fair, Acrobat Pro does a lot more than convert PDFs to DOC)

Finally, and most importantly, Zamzar, the free web conversion service I mentioned last month, produced one of the best results. I'd rate it overall second best out of the eight products I looked at.

Given that even the best product was imperfect, I think the answer is clear. Most users who have only a casual need to convert PDFs to DOC should save their pennies and use ZamZar rather than buy a commercial product.

However, if you have an ongoing need for such conversions, the convenience of being able to do this offline on your own PC may be a factor you need to consider.

So if you want to buy a product, what do I recommend? That's a tough ask because I haven't used any of these programs, I've only looked at the converted test files. Furthermore, some of the products have more recent versions than those used for the conversions that were sent to me.

The DOC file produced by Able2Extract [1] was the only one with all the layout right, even though the text font size was a bit too small. You could fix this manually, so overall I gave it the top ranking.

Of all the converted files, I thought the one produced by Nuance [3] looked the best but, unfortunately, it messed up the footers. That blooper aside, it produced some of the best results, which is all the more impressive when you take into account that it was the cheapest commercial product.

Based on conversion quality alone, I'd rate the other products roughly in the order listed below.
In the coming weeks I'll look at other factors, including product features and the editability of the output. When completed, I'll put up the full review on my website.

[1] Able2Extract $100
http://www.investintech.com/prod_a2e_pro.htm
[2] Zamzar Online Conversion Service. Free
http://www.zamzar.com/
[3] Nuance's PDF Converter Pro 5 $50
http://www.nuance.com/pdfconverter/converter/
[4] ABBYY PDF Transformer $99
http://www.pdftransformer.com/
[5] SolidConvertor v2.0.doc $99
http://www.soliddocuments.com/products.htm?product=SolidConverterPDF
[6] PDF to Word Professional V3
Possibly discontinued
[7] Adobe Acrobat V8 $449
http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobatpro/
[8] Omni Page Pro V15 $499
http://www.nuance.com/omnipage/professional/

2.5 Free Archiving Program Offers Ease of Use
What do you get when you take the ease of use of the class-leading commercial archiver WinZip and combine it with the power of the outstanding Open Source 7-Zip archiver? Why, you get jZip [1]. This is a neat idea that's been well implemented by the developer. Although it's little more than a front end for 7-Zip, the improvements that jZip makes in the 7-Zip interface are major. And there is no sacrifice in speed; in fact it feels even faster than 7-Zip. Apart from the improved interface, the functionality is essentially the same as 7-Zip. So who's it for? Mainly it's for folks looking for an easy-to-use WinZip replacement that's free for both private and commercial use. For power users who deal with many archive types, IZArc [2] is still the top free option. Freeware, All Windows, 2.3MB
[1] http://www.jzip.com/
[2] http://www.izarc.org/

2.6 Briard's Take on the Latest Version of Ubuntu
Ubuntu 8.04 has just been released. According to Linux pundits, this polished new version will attract disgruntled Vista users in droves. Regular contributor Briard has checked it over and has come to his own conclusion. Another informative and engaging article in the classic Briard style.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/review-ubuntu-hardy-heron.htm

** These items appear only in the Premium Edition **

2.7 Get Fix-It Utilities V7 for Free

2.8 Free Helpdesk Utility Allows Bulk Password Resets

2.9 Free Fax for Windows Vista

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


3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES

3.1 Microsoft Security News

The Microsoft "Patch Tuesday" for May [1] resulted in the release of four security bulletins covering six flaws, four of which were rated "critical" by Microsoft.

One of the critical-rated patches addressed problems in the Microsoft Jet Database Engine for Windows 2000, XP and Server 2003. This is a long overdue fix as exploits for this Windows component flaw have been in active circulation for months.

The three other critical-rated patches are for Microsoft Office. Virtually every version of Office is affected as well as related products such as the Word Viewer.

This yet again reinforces what I have said previously: that reading Office files with Microsoft viewers does not necessarily provide you with protection against a malware infected file. If you simply "must" open an Office file from an unknown source, such as that funny Powerpoint slide show you got in an email, then open the file in a sandbox. More details here [2].

All of the updates are distributed automatically via the Microsoft Update Service. Dial-up users in particular need to be aware that these updates are large files and will require a considerable period of time online to be successfully downloaded. If you are not certain that you have received the updates then visit the Microsoft Update Service [3] now.

[1] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms08-may.mspx
[2] http://techsupportalert.com/dr/safe-surfing.php
[3] http://update.microsoft.com (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 Utility Removes Old Java Versions and Checks for Updates
Java is similar to Flash in that the installation of new versions doesn't necessarily remove the old versions. This is a security risk because the old versions very often contain security flaws. Subscriber Yvon Houle has written to let me know about a tiny free utility called JavaRa that will check for and remove old Java JRE versions, and also check for the availability of new versions. I tried it and it worked like a charm. This is a simple free utility that should be part of every user's toolkit. It runs directly from the .exe without installation, so it's great for your USB drive as well. Freeware, Windows all, 24KB.
http://prm753.bchea.org/software.html

3.3 AVG Version 8 Free Released - Gizmo's Recommendations

In late February AVG Technologies announced AVG V8, the latest incarnation of their popular anti-virus scanner. Version 8 includes fully integrated spyware protection, rootkit protection and web link checking of search engine results. It is yet another example of a former anti-virus scanner transforming into an anti-malware scanner, a trend I noted in last month's editorial column.

On April 24 the free version of AVG V8 was released, and was promptly met with howls of derision. The free version excluded the rootkit scanner, active protection against hostile websites and a number of the other goodies added to the commercial V8 product. It also was proving to be very buggy.

Worse still, AVG announced that they would discontinue (at the end of May) the virus updates for the current V7.5 free version as well as their free anti-spyware and rootkit detection products.

I can fully understand user's disappointment with these announcements, but this is a perfectly normal commercial decision. AVG is, after all, a commercial organization, not a charity.

Their move does, however, present users of AVG's free software with a problem. Before the release of the V8, many AVG users employed an excellent security setup that combined the free version of AVG AV 7.5 with AVG's free anti-spyware scanner. With both these products being phased out, users are faced with a dilemma.

There are a couple of options:

Based on the evidence available as of today, I think the best route for free software users who want maximum protection is to switch to the free Avira AV [3] scanner and optionally, bolster this with the free Spyware Terminator program [4] or, less desirably, Windows Defender [5].

I say this because the free Avira product includes rootkit protection, while the free AVG does not. It is also more stable. Furthermore, Avira has better overall protection than AVG. Check out the AV Comparatives results [6] and you will see what I mean.

On the downside, Avira has limited active email protection, will nag you more than AVG free and the interface is somewhat more crude. But the overall level of protection is excellent.

Another option which offers a tad less protection but greater convenience is to switch to the free Avast! scanner. The latest version of Avast! is a major improvement on what was already an impressive product. And the free version includes anti-spyware, anti-rootkit and email protection, so you don't need to use it in concert with another product.

On the downside Avast! is resource hungry. Subscriber Basil Irwin pointed out that "not counting pseudo-drivers, Avast! consumes around 70MB of memory compared to 8MB for AntiVir. I didn't do any formal testing of CPU consumption or timing of various common operations, but there was no doubt in my mind that Avast! noticeably slowed several common operations, like program loading and file copying."

For average users with modern PCs I suggest the low hassle Avast! Option, while higher risk users may be better off going with Avira.

You could, of course, just stick with AVG 8 Free, and bolster your defenses with other products. However, there have been too many V8 "bug" reports to suggest this is an attractive option at this point in time.

[1] http://www.grisoft.com/ww.90627
[2] http://free.grisoft.com/ww.download-avg-anti-spyware-and-anti-rootkit
[3] http://www.free-av.com/en/products/1/avira_antivir_personal__free_antivirus.html
[4  http://www.spywareterminator.com
[5] http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx
[6] http://www.av-comparatives.org/seiten/ergebnisse_2008_02.php


3.4 A Security Trap You May Have Never Thought About

Subscriber Ian Luck writes: "Gizmo, I just wanted to make a comment about tinySpell that you recommend as the Best Free Spell-Checker. In order to function correctly, tinySpell necessarily works as a simple keylogger - you do not have to be typing in an application window for it to be checking spelling. As such, it easily picks up encrypted fields, such as passwords in forms, and uses these as part of its spell-checking and spelling suggestions. It certainly comes as a shock to be typing away and see your password pop up in front of you!
This suggests that the product needs to be used with caution, especially if used on communal computers.
I realize that the program's settings allow for limiting which applications to spell-check, and when words can be added to the dictionary, but unless users are aware of this security trap they may never get around to configuring those settings."

That's an interesting observation, Ian, yet another trap to add to a long list involving programs that remember things. The classic example is the auto form-fill feature that is the default setting in most browsers.

Reservations aside, TinySpell is a great freebie that has my full endorsement. Just make sure you configure it to fit your personal security needs.

http://tinyspell.m6.net/

3.5 Windows XP SP3 Finally Released

A last minute bug delayed the final release of the long awaited Windows XP Service Pack 3. It can now be downloaded from the Windows Update Service [1] or the Microsoft's download site [2].

The bug involved a conflict between SP3 and Microsoft's Dynamics Retail Management System program. The conflict has not been resolved, that will be handled in a separate fix released later. The current fix is SP3 will not download from Windows Update to systems in which the Retail Management System is installed. The same problem also affected the distribution of Vista SP1, and a similar solution has been adopted.

So what does SP3 offer the average user? In truth, not a lot. However organizations will benefit:

First, it incorporates all the Windows monthly updates distributed since August 2004 when XP SP2 was released. That's a lot of updates, so SP3 will prove to be a blessing to anyone who has to re-install XP. For example, disgruntled Vista users :>)

However, for most users who have regularly downloaded the monthly updates, this consolidation of patches is of no importance. Other changes are a tad more significant.

SP3 incorporates into XP a number of features that first appeared in Vista. One is Network Access Protection. This is a technique that prevents a PC from accessing a network if the PC is infected with malware.

Another Vista feature in XP SP3 is that product keys no longer have to be entered each time XP is installed. You have up to 30 days to enter them.

There are quite a lot of other changes, most of which are minor, and you can read about them here [3].

And what about the now fabled 10% performance improvement reported by some SP3 beta users? In my view it is a fable; I certainly haven't experienced it. If there is an improvement, it's not large enough for me to notice.

It all sounds unexciting, doesn't it? That's because it is. In fact, most average users won't notice any difference at all when XP SP3 is installed.

So should you install it?

Well, if you have a fully updated XP SP2 machine the case is hardly compelling. Additionally, with an update of this size there is always the potential for things going wrong.

Indeed, there have already been many reports of installation problems, so if you want to install SP3 I recommend you image your system drive before you install.

At the moment, if you want SP3 you will have to take the initiative by either visiting the Windows Update Service or downloading the full service pack. According to Microsoft, automatic distribution via Windows updates will start soon.

You can find the system prerequisites here [4]. And if you run into problems, Microsoft is providing free help - full details here [5].

Am I getting jaded or are all recent Microsoft initiatives just boring? It's all rather reminiscent of the days when IBM had a near monopoly of the computer world. Let's face it; monopolies just have no need to innovate.

Thankfully, IBM's monopoly was broken by Microsoft. Now hopefully, it's Microsoft's turn to be rolled.

[1] http://www.update.microsoft.com/windowsupdate/v6/default.aspx?ln=en-us
[2] http://snipurl.com/28sax  [www_microsoft_com]
[3] http://snipurl.com/28sb0  [www_microsoft_com]
[4] http://support.microsoft.com/kb/950717/
[5] http://support.microsoft.com/oas/default.aspx?ln=en-us&prid=11273&gprid=522131

3.6 A New Security Threat: The US Government
Worried about some internet thief stealing your passwords? This article [1] suggests that maybe you should be worrying more about what the US Government is doing. Thanks to JW for the link.
http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/04/which-gov-agenc.html

----------------- sponsored links -----------------------

The Best Windows Backup Software
We are in the process of updating all the backup reviews at our site but I can tell you right now that the top product has blitzed the field for a second year in row. In fact, it's improved so much that it's now a one horse race for our "editor's choice." The updated review of the top product is now online. If you have been looking for a backup program, this is the one.
http://www.backup-software-reviews.com/

The Best Remote Access Software
Our reviewer had given this product category away as "too slow, tool clumsy and too unreliable" but after reviewing this product he's changed his mind; "at long last a remote access solution that actually works! Quite frankly we agree with him, it's an impressive product. Read the full review here:
http://www.pcsupportadvisor.com/best_remote_access_software.htm

The Best Drive Imaging Program
In this race there are really only two runners worth considering. In this review we do an in-depth comparison of the top contenders but in the end, one product is the clear winner.
http://techsupportalert.com/drive-imaging-reviews.htm

------------- end of sponsored links --------------------------

4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 Logo Contest for New Wiki Site: Try Your Artistic Skills
We are looking for a logo for the new freeware wiki site. The category editors and I have been playing around with designs and now we invite you to contribute some ideas. There no specific prize; just ever-lasting fame :>) If you think you are the creative type come and offer your suggestions. More details here:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/logo-contest.htm

4.2 Free Utility Lets You Play Old DOS Games
Subscriber Mark Lynch writes "Hey Gizmo, I just love old DOS games, but it's often hard to get them to work on modern PCs. Recently I discovered this program called dosbox [1] that lets you play them all perfectly well. It's brilliant." For a free source of old games Mark suggests this site [2].
[1] http://www.dosbox.com/
[2] http://abandonia.com/

4.3 The 46 Best Freeware List Now in Chinese
A site in China has just translated the 46 Best-ever Freeware page. Rather surprisingly, they wrote and told me what they had done, so I figured I might as well give them retrospective permission. At least it now says on the webpage that I hold the copyright. It's kind of bizarre seeing my exact webpage with all my menus and graphics but with the text in Chinese.
http://xbeta.info/best_46_free_utilities.htm

4.4 Free Legal Information on the Web
Josh Foreman, a newsletter subscriber and Seattle attorney, has written a great article for the new wiki site on how to access free legal information on the web. This is a good page to bookmark; one day you might need it.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/free-legal-information-on-the-web.htm

4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
Like to play computer simulation games? Then ask Santa for one of these [1]. But here's the gear [2] you really need if you want serious street cred. Non-game players and female subscribers can amuse themselves here [3]. Thanks to Lex for the links.
[1] http://www.force-dynamics.com/media/
[2] http://www.hexatechracing.com/content.php?i=3&p=1&PHPSESSID=5b535e018a81fa5a054ccd1a0fb4e35d
[3] http://youtube.com/watch?v=wBqwPXyHbaQ

** These items appear only in the Premium Edition **

4.6 Encrypted USB Drive Works on Limited Rights PCs

4.7 The Next Generation of Browsers

4.8 Get Kaspersky AV, WinRar, Avira Premium for Free


5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 The Quick Way to Safely Remove USB Drives

Before you unplug a USB device such as a flash drive or external hard disk, you really should use the Windows "Safely Remove Hardware" feature to ensure that Windows has written everything to the device.

That's because Windows, to improve performance, uses a technique called "deferred writes" wherein Windows doesn't always immediately write everything to your external drive each time you use it. Rather, it consolidates lots of small writes into one big write by holding the data in memory.

It's just like washing the dishes; it's far more efficient to do one dishwasher load per day than do a load each time you use a single cup or plate.

But the downside is that some of the data you think you transferred to your USB drive may actually still be in your computer's memory. That's why you shouldn't just pull the drive out but first use the Safely Remove Hardware icon to force Windows to write to the drive anything it is holding in memory.

That's easy enough to say, but the Windows "Safely Remove Hardware" feature is confusing to use, particularly if you have several USB devices. Worse still, the icon often goes missing from the system tray.

"USB Disk Ejector" is a small utility that does the same thing as the Windows "Safely Remove Device" applet, except that it does it quicker and better.

It's a small free program that doesn't require installation. Just double click the .exe file and the program flashes up a simple screen that allows you to select the device to eject. One click and you are done.

Being portable, the best place for "USB Disk Ejector" is on your USB drive. Just put it in the root directory or, better still, if you have a menu system on your USB drive, put it there. Freeware, Windows 2000 ->Vista, 466KB. Thanks to subscriber Gerard Ozorio for this excellent suggestion.

http://quick.mixnmojo.com/usb-disk-ejector


6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 Another Way to Share Files with Friends

Web services like FolderShare are an attractive option for sharing and transferring files and photos between family and friends, but sometimes you want more flexibility and better performance than these services offer.

P2P sharing and IMS are other viable options, but many users are wary of these services because of perceived security risks.

But there is another option.

Running your own web server certainly gives you complete flexibility and, with a fast internet connection, sizzling performance. However, setting up a web server is normally a task beyond the capabilities of the average user. Until now, that is.

HFS HTTP File Server [1] is an extraordinary application. It allows you to set up your own web server just by clicking the HFS program. There is no installation; it runs directly from the tiny 551KB .exe file.

Setup is equally simple; there is none.

Usage simply involves dropping and dragging any files you want to share into the HFS window.

To share your files just give your friends the address of your webpage that appears at the top of the HFS window. When they enter this in their browser they can see and download the files you have chosen to share. They can't see or access any of your other files.

If you wish, you can set access permission for specific files or can enable access only from visitors with specific IPs. It's all under your control.

So what's the downside?

If your PC is behind a router you may need to set up port forwarding. That's not difficult - just consult your router manual.

Ideally, you need a fixed IP address from your ISP, but HFS HTTP File Server will still work with a dynamically allocated IP, it's just less convenient.

Finally, there are potential security issues. I know some people have HFS HTTP File Server running all the time. Some even use it for their own personal website [2].

This may be fine, but personally I think you should only have a personal web server like this running when you need it. That's the safest option. More HFS security tips here [3]

Those reservations aside, HFS HTTP File Server is a most impressive product. Hey, how could a fully functioning web server that's only 551KB and runs from a USB stick without configuration be anything else.

This product was suggested by Peter Herbert, one of the volunteer category editors from the new freeware wiki site

HFS HTTP File Server: Freeware, Windows 98-2003, 551KB

[1] http://www.rejetto.com/
[2] http://www.myistop.com/blogs/mail4kaja/host-your-site-home-pc
[3] http://www.rejetto.com/wiki/index.php?title=HFS:_Secure_your_server

*** The following item is only available in Premium Edition ***

6.2 Zero Effort Way to Shrink Photos for Emailing

We all know the problem. You want to email your photos to your friends but the image files are too large.
I solve this by using a little freebie that allows you to resize a photo by right clicking on the photo and simply selecting the size/quality you want. It works well, but here's another way:

This program that works in the background and detects when you are sending large photos. It then automatically resizes these photos based on settings you have pre-selected.

You don't do anything; it just does everything automatically. It works with a wide variety of email clients, including Outlook, OE and Thunderbird, as well as with popular webmail services such as Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo...

Full details in the Premium Edition

How to get the Premium Edition Now

Stop missing out on all this good stuff! Subscribe now to the Premium Edition of this newsletter and immediately receive the current Premium issue containing nearly double the information contained in this free edition. Get twice as many great web sites, twice as many top utilities and great freebies and no ads either.

You'll also get immediate access to the archive of all past issues of the Premium Edition of the newsletter where you can catch up on the hundreds of great utilities you missed in the free edition.

If you like the free edition you'll love the premium. At $10 per year it's just the cost of a few coffees. Use this link to subscribe online now:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/se-edition.htm

This month I'm giving away to new Premium subscribers, six free copies of 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. Note this offer is only valid in jurisdictions that permit such offers.

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 products.
Use the link below to subscribe now:

http://www.techsupportalert.com/se-edition.htm

7.0 MANAGE YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

Subscribe: Support Alert is a free newsletter. If you liked this issue why not email it to a friend. Anyone can subscribe by signing up online at http://www.techsupportalert.com/al_subscribe.htm

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Back Issues:  A searchable library of back issues is available at:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/issues/back_issues.htm

The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities
 http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm

The Extended List of the Latest Freebies
http://www.techsupportalert.com/more/extended.htm

For lots more free IT newsletters see
http://www.TechNewsletters.com/infobase.asp?TPubId=79

Thanks to subscriber Roger Keeny for copy-editing this issue. If you have a need for such services, contact Roger at liddlebigboy@gmail.com.

For convenience North American subscribers can contact this newsletter by snail mail at:
Support Alert
PO Box 243
Comstock Park, MI 49321-0243 USA

Support Alert is a registered online serial publication ISSN 1448-7020. Content of this newsletter is (c) Copyright Support Alert Ltd, 2008

See you next issue.

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com