"Your pointer to the very best
Tech information on the Web"
Issue 104 - 17th December, 2003
Support Alert is a registered online serial publication
Quote of the Week
Definition of "Computer Science:"
"A study akin to numerology and astrology, but lacking the precision of the former and the success of the latter."
Stan Kelly-Bootle, "The Devil's DP Dictionary"
Being the last for 2003, this issue is different.
First, it includes my annual awards for the "Product of the Year" and the "Best Free Utility"
Second, this issue features my pick of the best tech sites and utilities that have appeared in the newsletter throughout the year.
I'm not making any claims about any of these being the absolute best. I haven't reviewed all the products available and besides, there is always an element of the subjective in such matters. What I can say is that the sites and products listed are superb by any standards. Congratulations to all involved.
I'd like to give particular thanks to the Web's freeware authors. They, in the true spirit of the Internet, do what they do simply for the pleasure of their craft and the pleasure of sharing. We are the beneficiaries.
And thanks to you gentle readers. Your letters, suggestions and occasional rebukes during the year have been a source of enjoyment and stimulation.
Well, folks, that's it for 2003. The next issue will be around the middle of January.
Support Alert currently has subscribers in 46 different countries. To all of you, I wish peace and prosperity for 2004.
P.S. My special thanks to those of you who donated to Support Alert in 2003. Without your contributions this newsletter would have ceased publication. Instead it has flourished; subscription levels have doubled in 12 months and the future of the newsletter is now assured. All this is due to your generosity.
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. SUPPORT ALERT AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE 2003
- Product of the Year
- Best Free Utility
2. TOP TECH SITES FOR 2003
- Start-Up Applications Unplugged
- Configure Windows XP Services
- Windows XP Tips from Microsoft
- Great Free Support Site
- Commercial Software for Free
- Best Free Web Site Resources
- Free Web Site/Application Development Tutorials
- How Fast do you Really Surf
Additional items in the Enhanced SE Edition
- Excellent Collection of Free Fonts
- $100 Cryptography Book for Free
- Computer Security Test Sites
- How to Optimize Your Swap File
- Migrating to an Open Source Environment
- How to Counter RIAA Tactics
- Free Alternative to Mathematica
- A Site That Offers Free Access to Your Bookmarks/Favorites
- Best Site for Finding Drivers
3. TOP UTILITIES FOR 2003
- Monitor Registry Changes
- Free Route Tracer
- Free Copy Utility
- Read NTFS Disks From DOS
- Google from Anywhere
- Access the Command Prompt Easily
- Free Sticky Notes Utility
- Kill Unwanted Processes Quickly
- Excellent Free File Manager
- Superior Windows File Management
- Outstanding Free Utility for Comparing Files
- Free Source Code Documenter
- Batch Process Digital Images for Free
- Free Secure Erase Utility
- Free Backup Program
Additional items in the Enhanced SE Edition
- Cheap Real-Time Backup
- Confirm That Your Emails Have Been Read
- Monitor Your User's Backup Needs
- Free Data Recovery Utility
- Free Utility Fixes Broken WinSock Installations
- Fix Outlook & Outlook Express Quoting
- Free Industrial Strength File Hiding and Encryption
- Free Utility Stops Browser Hijacking
- Free High Performance Remote Control Software
4. CHRISTMAS GIFT SUGGESTIONS
- Give Anthrax to Your Boss
- Miss Out on Christmas Toy Shop Crush
- Bah Humbug!
- For the Nerd Who has Everything
- A Very Flash Drive
- Cute and Free
- Dream baby, dream
1. SUPPORT ALERT AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE 2003
Product of the Year
Winner: MyIE2 Browser
Tabbed browsers offer enormous productivity gains to users. So much so that once you've used one, it's very hard to go back to plain browsers like Internet Explorer.
There are dozens of tabbed browsers to choose from and most are available for free. Opera and Mozilla Firebird are two examples of first rate implementations.
However, for those users who don't feel comfortable about straying too far from the Microsoft world, there is good news. There are numerous free third party browsers that are based on the Internet Explorer engine that also offer tabs.
Two of these are outstanding: MyIE2 and Avant browser. Not only do these products add tabbed Windows, they also add a raft of other productivity features. They are also free.
In effect, these products offer users the best of both worlds: the comfort of using the standard Internet Explorer core, and the productivity of modern browser features so lacking in the Microsoft product.
I've used both products for some time. The Avant browser is slightly quicker then MyIE2 and has a cleaner look. On the down side, its tabs are placed rather annoyingly at the bottom of the screen. There are also compatibility problems with some IE plug-ins.
MyIE2 on the other hand works with a wider variety of IE plug-ins. It also offers an enormous selection of plug-ins written specifically for it.
MyIE2 also adds more additional built-in functions than Avant. It's Tools menu allows one-click access to a wide range of services including translation, anonymizing services, the Internet Archive, Whois lookup, Advanced Google functions and much more. It's also skinable, stable and free.
All this adds up to a product that offers the average user substantial productivity gains over using the standard Internet Explore browser built into Windows. And given that MyIE2 doesn't change your registry settings, it can happily coexist with IE.
Users of Opera and the Mozilla browsers have little to gain in using MyIE2. However, I strongly recommend that all users of Internet Explorer try this product. I suspect you will not be disappointed.
Best Free Utility
Winner: AVG Anti Virus V7 Free Edition.
Don't let the fact that this product is free lead you to believe that it is a lesser product.
AVG ranks right up there with the best anti-virus products available. It has first rate detection capabilities, on demand scanning, a resident scanning monitor, email scanning, automatic updates and excellent handling of detected viruses.
On top of these features, AVG AV consumes relatively few of your valuable system resources. For example, it runs with less than half the CPU processing requirement of Norton AV 2004 and takes up less memory space as well.
The "free version" is free for home use by a single user. It is full-featured apart from a more basic interface and the disabling of some advanced technical features.
AVG is to be congratulated for providing a product of this quality for free. The cumulative benefit they have bestowed on the Internet community is immeasurable.
2. TOP TECH SITES FOR 2003
Start-Up Applications Unplugged
It's frustrating trying to edit the Windows start-up list because the filenames themselves tell you little about the program's function. This free site lists thousands of common startup files along with full descriptions of what they do, plus links back to the vendor's web site. Top stuff.
Configure Windows XP Services
Even experienced users find XP Services something of a mystery. This site provides explanations for all of the services plus some useful configuration information.
Windows XP Tips from Microsoft
Dozens of XP Pro tips including a sneaky way to bulk rename files. I didn't know you could do that in Windows. Guess you learn something every day.
Great Free Support Site
I've mentioned this great site before but after using their services last week, I was again impressed with the service. They quickly solved an annoying problem that had been bugging me for weeks.
Commercial Software for Free
Many commercial software products started life as freeware. You can still locate many of these original free versions at the Internet Archive, which has captured snapshots of the web at different points of time for research purposes. Just enter the software vendor's web site address and with a bit of luck, you may be able to locate and download a free version.
Best Free Web Site Resources
I've been building Web sites for years. Here are some of the best services I've found:
The Best Totally Free Web hosting with No Ads:
The Best Free Website Statistics:
Free Web Site/Application Development Tutorials
How Fast do you Really Surf
The high data rate you get when downloading a big file is not a reliable measure of how quickly you can surf. This site offers a free test that measures your connection speed to 40 different sites worldwide. Be prepared to have your ego deflated ;>)
MORE OF THE BEST TECH SITES FROM THE SUPPORTERS EDITION
Excellent Collection of Free Fonts
There are many free Windows font sites but many are so loaded with advertising that they are virtually unusable. This one keeps the ads discreet and has a fabulous range of free type styles. I've bookmarked this site and I suggest you do as well.
$100 Cryptography Book for Free
"The Handbook of Applied Cryptography" is a standard textbook that used to cost $99.95. This site (legally) offers the whole book for free in downloadable PostScript and PDF formats.
How to Optimize Your Swap File
The configuration of your Windows swap file (aka "Virtual Memory", "Paging File") can have a major impact on your PC performance. This guide will help you tweak the settings.
Migrating to an Open Source Environment
If your organization is considering changing to Open Source software, you should read this excellent free report from the European Commission's IDA. It covers in detail the technical and administrative issues involved with many practical examples. Although primarily written from the viewpoint of government instrumentalities, there is much of value to the private sector as well.
How to Counter RIAA Tactics
At the EFF site you can pick up this free guide titled "How Not to Get Sued by the RIAA for File-Sharing (and Other Ideas to Avoid Being Treated Like a Criminal)."
Free Alternative to Mathematica
Need to solve a quadratic equation or maybe five equations in five unknowns? At this site you'll find free utilities that will give you answers to these roblems and many more.
A Site That Offers Free Access to Your Bookmarks Favorites Thanks
to subscriber Martin Katz for suggesting this excellent site that offers
free storage and management of your favorites.
Best Site for Finding Drivers
Quite simply, this is one of the best driver sites I've visited.
3. TOP UTILITIES FOR 2003
Monitor Registry Changes
When installing new software it's often valuable to know exactly what changes have been made to the Windows Registry. RegShot is a tiny free utility that takes a before and after shot of the Registry and then exactly identifies what has been changed. Another useful free utility for your toolkit. (34kb)
Free Route Tracer
3D Traceroute is a free utility that graphically displays Internet route information. You can use it for technical tasks such as diagnosing slow connections or for general purpose snooping like determining the location and owner of a web site or tracing spammers. (996KB)
Free Copy Utility
I was surprised recently to find that a friend of mine, who is a tech support professional, had never heard of the XXCOPY utility. For those of you who are living in a similar state of ignorance, it's a command line copy program that can be best described as being like the old DOS XCOPY on steroids. It will even copy whole partitions including Windows 9X operating system partitions. It's free. It's extremely useful in particular situations. It should be in everyone's toolkit. (252KB)
Read NTFS Disks from DOS
Now here's a freeware utility that one day might just save your bacon. This NTFS reader fits onto a FreeDOS bootable floppy which means that, should your NTFS based Windows system become terminally corrupted, you can still access your disks. It even includes a file search and copy utility. (832KB)
Google from Anywhere
Google has just released the beta of DeskBar, a search box located in the taskbar that allows you to perform a Google search from any application. Results come up in a special mini-viewer in a 3/4 screen sized window that overlays whatever application you are currently running. It comes with lots of options and features including the ability to search a thesaurus or look up definitions. A really neat feature is that you can select any text in your application and search that text by hitting Ctrl-Alt-G. The only downside is yet more demands on your taskbar real estate. Everyone should try this one, even Dave's Search Bar users. (413KB)
Access the Command Prompt Easily
If you are a regular user of the Windows command prompt you will appreciate this nifty free utility that allows you to access the command prompt directly from Windows Explorer. The integrated environment is a real plus. So is the fact that you end up in the folder where you want to be. No more CD commands with long file name hassles. (118kb)
Free Sticky Notes Utility
ATnotes is a neat "Post-It" notes style utility that features configurable alarms, resizable windows, variable fonts and a host of other useful features. The product is remarkably similar to my favorite sticky notes utility, TurboNotes. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Maybe not. (723KB)
Kill Unwanted Processes Quickly
Some applications like disk defragmenters, CD burners and partitioning programs require all other applications to be shut down. Killing these processes through Task Manager or tray icons can be tedious. TrayKiller is a free application that does the job with a single click and will restart the applications just as easily. (1.5MB)
Excellent Free File Manager
Windows Explorer is fine for simple file management activities but when you have some serious work to do, you need a two pane file manager. I use EF Commander which is excellent but costs $25. Recently I discovered 2X Explorer. It offers most of the functionality of EF Commander and is totally free. As a bonus, its user interface is very similar to Windows Explorer, so most users will find this tool easy to learn and use.(392KB)
Superior Windows File Management
Windows file managers are promoted as superior replacements for Windows Explorer (WE). Most are not, which is why most folks muddle along with WE. Directory Opus is different because it is genuinely superior to WE in just about every respect. By combining the WE tree model with dual panes, you get an ideal environment for effective file handling. Additionally, for speed, all panes are operated as separates threads and for power, each provides functionality totally missing from WE, such as wild card matching. There's way too much to explain so take advantage of the 60-day trial and see for yourself. It's not cheap at $59 but is a real productivity tool for power users. (9.6MB)
Outstanding Free Utility for Comparing Files
WinMerge is a free Windows utility that compares two files and identifies the differences. The differences can then be merged from one file into the other. This is the sort of product that is ideal when you have several different versions of a file and are not sure how they differ. The product is geared to text files so it won't be much use to you with Word Processing or other complex formatted documents (see below). But for text reports or computer programs, WinMerge is ideal. (514KB)
Free Source Code Documenter
Doxygen is a free, open source documentation system for C++, C, Java, PHP and C# programs, amongst others. It generates documentation in HTML, PDF, RTF, PostScript and a number of other formats including compressed HTML which is compatible with Microsoft Help format. The documentation is produced from the source code. For undocumented code, Doxygen will automatically document the source code structure using a variety of dependence, inheritance and collaboration diagrams. Doxygen was developed under Linux but executables for Windows 9x/NT and Mac OS X are available.
Batch Process Digital Images for Free
Irfanview is a free multimedia viewer and editor that supports a huge range of file formats. Each new version seems to add more capabilities but to me, its most powerful features are its speed and its batch processing capability. If you want to resize sets of digital images for the web or for transmission by email, Irfanview is the best free solution available. It's also a mighty fine image viewer as well. I just can't believe something this good is free.
Free Secure Erase Utility
Eraser is a free, GNU license utility that will securely erase files, folders or even whole disks from any Windows or DOS PC. Eraser overwrites data area with selectable random data patterns and also wipes data in the paging file, Internet cache, temporary files, Internet cookies, unused disk space and a number of other places where data can secretly lurk. It handles FAT16, FAT32 and NTFS partitions as well. Erasing files with high security will always be a difficult and time consuming task and can never offer absolute 100% safety. However, Eraser makes the task about as easy as it can be, with a security level beyond most conceivable requirements. An impressive package. (2.6MB)
Free Backup Program
Karen's Replicator v1.8.10 is a straight-forward backup utility that copies individual files, folders and even entire drives to another location. The backup can be on another partition, local drive or network drive. Its key feature is the ability to schedule automatic backups. No, it doesn't support removable media - that kind of feature is for a different class of backup product. The intended use of this product is to make regular automatic backups of critical files. While testing, I used it to make hourly backups of the file containing my notes for future issues of this newsletter. Simple, effective and free. (1.4MB)
MORE OF THE BEST UTILITIES FROM THE SUPPORTERS EDITION
Cheap Real-Time Backup
MirrorFolder is a backup utility that creates a mirror image of your critical working files on another drive. Files, folders or entire drives can be backed up. Because the utility works at system level through its own RAID-1 style driver, it can even backup exclusively opened files, such as Outlook .PST files, that can't be accessed by normal backup utilities. Multiple users can have their data backed up on a single network drive. The program runs transparently in the background and consumes only modest levels of system resources. At $34, it's a cheap and effective backup solution, especially for those who work with critical data. A 30-day trial version is available (881kb)
Confirm That Your Emails Have Been Read
This is a free application that tells you when the emails you send are opened by the recipient. This is very useful in a variety of circumstances. For example, when someone is not answering your emails and you don't know whether this is deliberate or not.
Monitor Your User's Backup Needs
BackupWatcher is a free tool that allows LAN administrators to measure the backup requirements of network users. It does this by monitoring the file churn rate on each PC since last backup. Full reporting facilities are provided that allow problem areas to be easily identified. Quite a neat way of reducing unnecessary backups and ensuring necessary ones are actually carried out. (2.57MB)
Free Data Recovery Utility
PC Inspector File Recovery 3 is a free utility that does an impressive job recovering accidentally deleted files or files lost through corruption of the file system. It has some nice features, like the ability to recover files with lost headers, and to recover partitions even when the boot sector has been lost or damaged. It works with the FAT16/FAT32 and NTFS file systems. This is no home written utility - it is a serious product from a reputable German company with a long history in commercial data recovery. PCI is the ideal product for those who want the security of a data recovery program but are not prepared to fork our big bucks for the extra features of high end products. (2.8MB)
Free Utility Fixes Broken WinSock Installations
If you've ever had a piece of software break your Winsock setup, you'll know just what a pain it is to repair it. LSP-Fix is a free Winsock repair utility that does the job semi-automatically.
Fix Outlook & Outlook Express Quoting
Users of Outlook and Outlook Express are all-too familiar with the way these products mess up quoted text when you reply to a plain text email. Symptoms include inserted blank lines, lines wrapped in strange places and other weird artifacts. This site offers free add-ins that fix the problem. Once installed, they operate invisibly and seamlessly. While visiting this site, check out the neat free games as well. (375KB)
Free Industrial Strength File Hiding and Encryption
bmpPacker is a free utility that allows you to send confidential files over the net securely encrypted using a .bmp image file as a container. bmpPacker upports Blowfish, Twofish and Rijndael encryption with a key length up to 256 bits. The latter two methods are believed to be uncrackable with today's technology.
To decode the information, the recipient will need a copy of bmpPacker and the key. How you securely get the key to the recipient is another issue. Note: Use of this product may be illegal in some countries. (1.1MB)
Free Utility Stops Browser Hijacking
There's a browser hijacking plague at the moment. All it takes is a visit to a pushy web site or a loaded shareware install and next minute your Internet Explorer homepage has been changed, your default search setting altered or phantom bookmarks added to your favorites. This free monitor will let you know when something's trying to change your settings and pass control back to you. (394KB)
Free High Performance Remote Control Software
Ultr@VNC is a client/server package that allows remote control of another PC using a TCP/IP connection. It works with Windows W9x/NT/2K/XP and offers all the features you need including auto-configuration, easy user interface, extensive hotkeys and embedded file transfer. Apart from the fact that it's free, its strong suite is its speed. Ultr@VNC must be the fastest remote control package I've ever used. Just the thing for accessing your home PC while traveling, off-site troubleshooting or general network administration.
4. Christmas Gift Suggestions
If you are completely lost for ideas, you might like to try these suggestions:
Give Anthrax to Your Boss
This large range of neckties features photographs of micro-organisms. Fancy cholera? Maybe ebola? Why not syphilis?
Miss Out on Christmas Toy Shop Crush
Family Fun magazine subjected 479 of this year's new toys to the harsh judgment and grueling physical torture of over 1000 school children. In the end, only 66 toys got the thumbs up from the kids. You can find them here, all neatly grouped by age and category.
Here's a site that you can recommend to all those Christmas Cynics. Here folks share their bad Christmas experiences. I found the imagery in this particular story particularly evocative: "My girlfriend left me on Christmas Eve, 1998. I spent Christmas Day alone, sitting on a bean bag (she took all the other furniture), with a bottle of gin and no presents. Christmas dinner was spaghetti and frozen peas." (Warning: strong language in some stories)
For the Nerd Who has Everything
A Klein bottle is a container with only one surface - a kind of three dimensional version of the Mobius strip. You can order Klein bottles in all shapes and sizes from this site. I quite liked the Klein beanie hats with matching Mobius scarf. From $30.
A Very Flash Drive
The Archos ArcDisk is smaller than a floppy disk yet offers 20 GB of storage. Connect it to your PC through the USB 2 port and you have the ultimate portable data solution. $229
Cute and Free
This is so cute that even hardened cynics will smile. Click on all the reindeers for maximum effect. Email to a friend.
Dream baby, dream
Sony's Cybershot T1 measures only 3.6 x 2.4 x 0.8 inches yet offers 5 mega pixel resolution, a huge 2.5" TFT, Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar lens, 3x optical zoom and 32 fps video. It's not yet officially released in the States but you can buy it from this site which imports directly from Japan. ($699)
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Thanks to the following volunteer reviewers for their efforts:
Daniel Rose (D.R.)
Annie Scrimshaw (A.S.) aka Annmarie at www.cybertechhelp.com
Jeff Partridge (J.P.)
Sheila Foss (S.F) aka PippieT
Reviews written by Annie, Daniel, Jeff and Sheila are indicated by their initials at the end of the review.
Thanks, too, to subscriber A. Belile for proofreading this issue.
Content of this newsletter is (c) Copyright TechSupportAlert.com, 2003
See you next issue.
Ian “Gizmo” Richards