gizmo richards' support alert newsletter

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

Premium Edition
Issue
143, 15th March, 2007

If you prefer you can read this issue online from the Supporters' Area here:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/supporters/private.htm

IN THIS PREMIUM ISSUE:

0. EDITORIAL: A New Approach to Protecting Your PC

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities List Updated
1.2 Valuable Virtual Machine Tools
1.3 Converting Movie Clips to Send Via Email
1.4 How to Find a File on the Web
1.5 Vista Driver Site
1.6 More Free Support Sites
1.7 How to Do Your Image Editing Online
1.8 How to Get Commercial Utilities for Free (Premium Edition)
1.9 How to Reset the Windows Administrator Password (Premium Edition)
1.10 How to Change Drive Letter Assignments in Windows XP (Premium Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 A Simple and Cheap Way to Get a Multi-Monitor Setup
2.2 Free Utility Preserves Desktop Icon Layout
2.3 Firefox Extension Makes Opening Text Links Easier

2.4 The Best Way to Validate Your HTML
2.5 Linux as an Alternative to Vista
2.6 Microsoft Releases Virtual PC 2007
2.7 Free Digital Effects Plug-in Impresses (Premium Edition)
2.8 Free Network Software for Schools and Classrooms (Premium Edition)
2.9 More Vista Features for XP Users (Premium Edition)

3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 Firefox Updated to V2.0.0.2
3.3 Cloud Descends Over Top BitTorrent Clients
3.4 New Version of Top Anonymous Surfing Program
3.5 Vista Gets Poor Reception
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Good Prices on Computer Software
4.2 New Utility from SysInternals
4.3 Weapon of Mass Destruction for Geeks
4.4 Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.6 Free Games from Microsoft (Premium Edition)
4.7 Tax Filing for Nix (Premium Edition)
4.8 How to Tell Whether Your Anti-Spyware Program is Itself Spyware (Premium Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Ensure You Don't Have Vulnerable Software on Your PC
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 The Best Free Windows Clipboard Replacement
6.2 The Best Free Uninstaller (Premium Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION


0.0 EDITORIAL

In the last year I've totally changed my mind about the best way to protect your PC from malware.

I've changed my mind because the nature of malware threats has changed. So too has security software.

Once, security threats could be classified into tidy categories such as viruses, spyware and trojans. To protect yourself against these threats you needed a security product that targeted each type of threat.

On my PC a year ago I had an anti-virus scanner, an anti-spyware scanner, an anti-trojan scanner, a rootkit detector and a process protector as well. It all made perfect sense. Not any more.

Modern malware threats are commonly blended; that is, they combine in one product several different types of threat.

A typical modern spyware product may contain a trojan downloader, a spyware product such as a keylogger and a rootkit to stealth them all. It may also employ a virus-like means of propagation.

The same could be said for modern viruses; they too contain multiple products in their payload that cross the classical malware classification boundaries.

As malware threats have changed so have security products. They have had to.

A couple of years back, anti-virus products were pretty poor when it came to detecting trojans and spyware. Today they have greatly improved. Indeed, the best AV products now detect trojans as well as any specialist anti-trojan scanner and they are no slouches at detecting spyware and rootkits either.

Nor have anti-spyware products been standing still. They have become pretty good at detecting trojans and some products like SpySweeper and Spyware Terminator now check for viruses as well. Similarly firewall vendors have extended their products to offer both anti-virus and anti-spyware capabilities.

This expansion of function has come at a cost. Almost all security products now consume more computer resources than earlier versions.

And there's another cost: overlap in function. Your AV product is probably scanning for the same spyware products as your anti-spyware product. At the same time your anti-spyware scanner is looking for the same viruses as your anti-virus scanner. If you are running an anti-trojan scanner as well you may have three scanners looking for the same trojans!

Overlap is not necessarily a bad thing but if it grinds your computer performance into the ground it is too high a price to pay. And if you purchased these products it's definitely too high a price to pay. :>)

No folks, the days of running three or more active security scanners is over. So what should you do?

I now recommend a two stage approach to computer security:

First, take a much more pro-active approach to reduce the chance of malware getting onto your PC. I covered this in depth in my editorial in the January 2007 issue of this newsletter.
http://techsupportalert.com/issues/issue141.htm#Section_0

Second, once you have put into effect the practices covered above, you can safely limit the active protection on your PC to one or two well-chosen security products.

The trick to the second step lies in selecting the right products. I'll cover this in more depth next month but I'll give you a little prelude to my thinking:

At the moment the freeware solution that appeals to me most would be to combine the broad spectrum capabilities of the Kaspersky-based AOL Anti-Virus Shield with Spyware Terminator (with the ClamWin scanner disabled). This could be augmented with weekly offline scans using Ewido Antispyware and BlackLight rootkit detector.

For paid software, I'm thinking that NOD32 AV or the full commercial version of Kaspersky AV would alone offer sufficient protection for most users. These too could be augmented with periodic offline scans using Ewido and BlackLight. Higher risk users may need to consider adding WebRoot SpySweeper (without virus protection) or Spyware Doctor into the mix.

Please note this advice only holds if you have put into effect the security practices I mentioned in the January issue. If not, you'll need a lot more protection than this.

But this is only a prelude. Next month I'll look at other security product combinations and talk about how firewalls fit into this as well.

The times are a'changing folks. Our approach to computer security needs to be modified to reflect these changes.

See you next month.

Gizmo
supporters@techsupportalert.com



1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities List Updated
I've just finished a major update of my top freeware list. If you haven't checked the list for a while now is the time as there are some great new additions. If you belong to a forum, newsgroup online service like Digg or del.icio.us I'd be mighty grateful if you posted a link to my freeware web page. If you do, please let me know.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm

1.2 Valuable Virtual Machine Tools
The folks at VMToolkit [1] have released a free a utility that converts from VMWare virtual images (VMDK) to Microsoft Virtual Machine images (VHD). Note that it needs the .NET Framework 2.0 to be installed. Equally useful is VMWare's free P2V utility [2] that allows you make a virtual image from a real Windows system that can then be run as a virtual machine using VMWare's free VMWare Player [3]. EasyVMX [4] has for some time been offering a free online service that does much the same thing, though, in a more basic way.
[1] http://vmtoolkit.com/files/folders/converters/entry8.aspx
[2] http://www.vmware.com/products/converter/faqs.html
[3] http://www.vmware.com/products/player/
[4] http://www.easyvmx.com/supersimple.shtml

1.3 Converting Movie Clips to Send Via Email
Subscriber Joe Morice recently wrote asking how he could convert a 40 MB .avi video file to one less than 5MB for emailing. I replied that I didn't think it be done without serious loss in quality. Joe proved me wrong. He converted his 40 MB .avi to a 3.2 MB .mp4 using the free online conversion service at Zamzar [1] with little loss in quality when viewed on a PC. He even sent me links to the original and compressed files to prove it. Nice find, Joe. The Zamzar site is going from strength and is now a mandatory first stop when converting any file format to another.
[1] http://www.zamzar.com

1.4 How to Find a File on the Web
Sometimes you need to find a specific file on the web such as abcdef.zip. Google is always a good starting point but I usually have more luck with these FTP search engines.
http://www.filewatcher.com
http://www.metaftp.com/

1.5 Vista Driver Site
Here's a nice find: a site that list all Vista drivers as they become available, with direct download links to the drivers. It's free and updated daily.
http://www.radarsync.com/vista

1.6 More Free Support Sites
Subscriber Richard Yores writes, "Gizmo, just about the friendliest tech support forum I've seen on the net is CyberTechHelp [1]. Most user problems are answered quickly including analysis of HijackThis logs." I agree, Richard. It's both friendly and active. So too is D-A-L Computer Help [2], another forum-based support site. I suggest you try both the next time you have a PC problem.
[1] http://www.cybertechhelp.com/forums/
[2] http://www.d-a-l.com/index.php

1.7 How to Do Your Image Editing Online
Free online services offer a useful alternative to doing your image editing on your own PC. This site offers an excellent comparison of ten different services. Their top pick was Cellsea [2] because it "... has a clean, responsive interface with an impressive set of features and can handle a wide range of file formats." Check it out; it's more capable than you might think, though the 5MB maximum file size will be limitation for some users. Thanks to Luc Archambault for the suggestion.
[1] http://www.smileycat.com/miaow/archives/000267.html
[2] http://www.cellsea.com/java-cellsea/media/index.htm

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

1.8 How to Get Commercial Utilities for Free
Subscriber N.H. writes, "Gizmo, the British computer publisher VNU offers its subscribers a changing collection of commercial utilities in its download area. Some of them are totally free, some just require you to register with the original vendor to get a serial number. They are often the current version minus one. Many of these apps have been available for download for months and I've registered four of them with no problems. Two are particularly good: Paragon Partition Manager 2005 and Xara XSird." Thanks for that N.H. I did mention this site once before when they offered True Image V7 for free but VNU wrote to me and politely asked not me not to link to the download for this file. I agreed and have not mentioned any of their free downloads since. However, there is nothing wrong in me directing you to the home page of the VNU site. Where you navigate from there is your business. Actually the VNU site is excellent so make sure you have a good look around.
http://www.vnunet.com

1.9 How to Reset the Windows Administrator Password
Subscriber Iain Bryden writes, "Gizmo, over the weekend I nearly went crazy after changing passwords on all the PCs in my home network. Shortly after I had changed my administrator password I rebooted and forgot what it was. This website [1] helped me out with a bootable CD image which enabled me to reset it." Thanks, Iain. You could have achieved the same result with your Windows XP installation CD by using this technique [2]. Easier still is to use a Windows Password Reset Disk if available. You can find out how to create one here [3]. It's also safer as the first two techniques may corrupt any files encrypted using Windows NFS. Mind you, most users only create a reset disk after first having lost their password. :>)
[1] http://home.eunet.no/~pnordahl/ntpasswd/bootdisk.html
[2] http://pubs.logicalexpressions.com/pub0009/LPMArticle.asp?ID=305
[3] http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=KB;en-us;306214&

1.10 How to Change Drive Letter Assignments in Windows XP
It's pretty easy if you follow the instructions here [1]. Beforehand you had better make sure your drives are not in use. Rather more sophisticated is this batch script [2] for sysadmins that allows them to automatically map network drives for users.
[1]
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/307844
[2] http://www.petri.co.il/forums/archive/index.php?t-6898.html

Got some top sites to suggest? Send them to supporters@techsupportalert.com


2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 A Simple and Cheap Way to Get a Multi-Monitor Setup
Imagine working on a spreadsheet and you want more width to see the whole spreadsheet. Wouldn't it be nice if you could drag the right hand side of the spreadsheet window all the way to the right onto a second monitor alongside your main monitor? Well that's exactly what you can do with a neat shareware program called MaxiVista [1]. Regular contributor Lex Davidson has prepared an excellent review and this now available online [2]. He's really impressed and so am I. I use a multi-monitor / multi-PC setup all the time and can attest that it really improves my productivity. If you have an old PC lying around this could be the perfect use for it. Commercial software, from $29.95, free 14 day limited feature trial, Windows 2000, XP, 1.81MB
[1] http://www.maxivista.com/
[2] http://www.techsupportalert.com/review-maxvista.htm

2.2 Free Utility Preserves Desktop Icon Layout
Ever installed a new program or changed your screen resolution only to discover your precious desktop icon layout has been scrambled? Restore Desktop 2.0 is a tiny little utility that allows you to easily reset you desktop back to your preferred layout. Just select the restore option from the right click context menu and all your icons will be instantly returned to where they belong. It will even restore your icons to their correct position relative to the screen edges when you change screen resolution. Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 78KB. NOTE: After I published this newsletter it looks like the developers have switched the link below [1] to a sales page for one of their shareware products. However I managed to find an alternative link [2] Click on the file size to download.
[1] http://www.softwarium.com/rdwin.html
[2] http://web.archive.org/web/20060127002359/www.softwarium.com/windownloads.html

2.3 Firefox Extension Makes Opening Text Links Easier
In issue #142 I mentioned Linkification [1], a Firefox extension that allows you to highlight a text-only link in a web page and then use the right click context menu to open the link in a new tab or window. This prompted subscriber Steve Wolfson to write, "Gizmo, for this purpose I use an extension called Text Link [2]. The advantage of Text Link over Linkification is you don't have to highlight the link and then right click and make a selection from the context menu. You simply double click on the text link and the link opens in a new tab. The only issue with this extension is that it comes from a Japanese site. Although the page is in English, it's a little trickier to install an extension from this site than from ones listed on the Mozilla site. However, it works great for me." And it works great for me as well, Steve, and I agree; it's better than Linkification. The good news is that you can now get it directly from the Mozilla extensions site [3].
[1] https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/190/
[2] http://piro.sakura.ne.jp/xul/_textlink.html.en
[3] https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/1939/

2.4 The Best Way to Validate Your HTML
If you want to get the highest surfer satisfaction and best Google ranking for your web pages you should validate the HTML to ensure it complies with HTML standards. The same applies to HTML newsletters. Many email clients have minimal HTML handling capabilities and are intolerant of poor HTML. Worse still, some spam filters heavily penalize html errors in email messages. That's why I recently decided to more thoroughly validate the HTML in all future issues of Support Alert. But what was the best validation tool to use? Initially I used the free web based service from W3C [1]. They are, after all, the standards body so it seemed like a good starting point. Technically their markup validator works fine but it's hard to use. The view is fragmented, there are few visual cues to distinguish between minor problems and major errors and it was a lot of work moving between the browser window and my HTML editor. It also requires the use of a separate tool for CSS validation. One thing you can say for the W3C validator is that it is comprehensive. It alerted me to many errors that were not flagged at all by DreamWeaver MX, my HTML editor. I then tried a Firefox extension called (oddly enough) "HTML Validator" [2]. It's based on the Open Source Tidy program and works from the Display Source option in Firefox. It's a nice little product and is visually far more effective than the W3C validator. But, alas, it doesn't find all the errors. The next product I tried was a commercial offering [3] from CSE called (you guessed it) "HTML Validator." This is a stand-alone utility you run on your own PC that not only validates your HTML but allows you to correct the problems using an inbuilt HTML editor. With this I hit the jackpot. It flags errors very clearly and has excellent plain English explanations of the errors along with practical suggestions for how they can be fixed. It also allows you to clearly differentiate between minor problems and serious concerns. Fixing problems is easy: just make the changes using the inbuilt editor and re-validate. It's a quick and efficient process. It's thorough, too; it found all the errors detected by the W3C validator with a few extra helpful tips thrown in as well. Overall this product gave me the two qualities I was looking for: thoroughness combined with ease of use. It's a bit expensive but most serious HTML coders will quickly recover the cost in time saved. Those whose needs are less demanding may want to check out the free Lite version. It lacks the CSS validation, spell checking, advice tips and a number of other features but it's still a very usable product. Commercial software, Free Lite version plus other versions $69-129, Windows 2000, XP, Vista, 3.74MB (Lite)
[1] http://validator.w3.org/
[2] https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/249/
[3] http://www.htmlvalidator.com

2.5 Linux as an Alternative to Vista
Regular contributor "Briard" has written a fascinating account of how he tried a dozen different Linux distros in his search for a Vista replacement. Briard is no Linux dude, just a typical experienced Windows user, so his findings are of great relevance to any Window user who has been tempted to try the Linux path. He's written a great review; it's amusing, informative and very timely. For a different take on the same subject check out this article [2] suggested to me by subscriber Robin Martin and this one [3] suggested by Mikel Peterson.
[1] http://www.techsupportalert.com/review-linux-for-windows-users.htm
[2] http://tinyurl.com/33dhc8  (techreplublic.com)
[3] http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,2102876,00.asp?kc=EWLINEMNL031307EOAD

2.6 Microsoft Releases Virtual PC 2007
Virtualization software allows a user to create multiple virtual machines (guests) on the user's real PC (the host). The guests are isolated from the host and cannot have any affect on it. Virtualization is the ideal environment for testing out new software (and operating systems) without exposing your real PC to security threats or other risks. Last year Microsoft made available Virtual PC 2004 for free and now they have done the same with the just-released final version of Virtual PC 2007. It's an impressive freebie with hardware acceleration for CPU's that supports virtualization, 64 bit support, quick changing between virtual PCs using tabs and support for Vista as both as a host or guest. Virtual PC will run on Windows XP Pro or Tablet editions and Vista Business, Enterprise and Ultimate. Users of XP Home or Vista home editions are out of luck. Microsoft clearly sees Virtual PC as part of their Vista migration program. For example, it allows organizations to continue to use applications that are incompatible with Vista by running them within an older Windows version guest running on a Vista host. I tried Virtual PC on a test rig and it ran Windows 98 perfectly as a guest under Windows XP Pro. An Ubuntu Linux install was less successful with a corrupted graphics display. Apparently there is a fix for this but I didn't try it. Frankly, I prefer VMWare Workstation over Virtual PC; it's got much better management of saved images and it properly supports Linux. However, VMWare workstation is a $169 product while Virtual PC 2007 is free so there is no contest in the value department.
[1] http://www.microsoft.com/windows/downloads/virtualpc/sysreq.mspx

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

2.7 Free Digital Effects Plug-in Impresses
Subscriber John Henk recently wrote to tell me about virtualPhotographer, a free effects plug-in for Photoshop, PS Elements, Paint Shop Pro and other popular digital image editors. It's an impressive product that allows the easy application of many different photographic effects covering combinations of film grain, color modification, B/W, soft focus, high contrast and fancy artistic effects. Plug-ins for these effects can be quite expensive. The fact that virtualPhotographer provides these for free along with ease of use and a professional implementation make it a must-have plug-in for anyone involved in digital editing. Freeware, works with most digital editors that accept plug-ins, Windows 98 and later, 273KB
http://www.optikvervelabs.com/

2.8 Free Network Software for Schools and Classrooms
If you are involved with supporting computers in schools you may want to look at this free product called LanView3 developed by Kevin Figg. I have no way of evaluating such a product but if it lives up to its specs it could be really useful. Here's what Kevin said when he wrote to me: "LanView3 is aimed at ICT Support in Education. It has a host of features, too many to list but here are just a few:

  • Almost real-time network station lists
  • Application banning (designed for Internet banning) per user or per station
  • Teacher Red/Green buttons to enable or disable an entire class
  • Remote shutdowns and wake ups
  • Network wide defrag, scandisk or execution
  • Integrated console for scripting
  • Support for groups (or classrooms) for easier management.

It is certified "100% clean" by Softpedia and can be downloaded from their website [1] or my own [2]. Like I said, it is freeware. I write the software in my own time and at my own expense." Freeware, all Windows versions, 15.3 MB.
[1] http://tinyurl.com/2pmofx  (softpedia.com)
[2] http://tinyurl.com/2lg4pk (mst-software.co.uk)

2.9 More Vista Features for XP Users
Google has just released version 5 of Google Desktop, their all-in-one product that includes desktop search, web search, Gmail access, search security, desktop sidebar, widgets, streaming feeds and more. What catches your eye is the new Vista-like look and operation of the sidebar and gadgets. It's very attractive, so attractive that XP users might want to use the product just to add a bit of Vista pizzazz (and functionality) to their desktop. I've been using the new Google Desktop for about a week and reluctantly admit to being impressed. I've always doubted whether there were any real advantages offered by this product over simply having a straight desktop search product but I've now changed my mind. If you use Google for web searching Gmail, Desktop Search or any of Goggle's other products, you'll find Google Desktop integrates them nicely and improves your productivity and security in the process. Be aware though that this product, like all products with desktop search, can eat up a big chunk of your computer's resources while indexing your files. Tuning the indexing process helps but don't bother trying this product on your old P3. Freeware, Windows 2000 SP3+, XP, Vista, 1.7MB.
http://desktop.google.com/

Got some favorite utilities to suggest? Send them to supporters@techsupportalert.com


3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES

3.1 Microsoft Security News
I'm beginning to wonder whether Microsoft is ever again going to have a "good month" in the computer security arena. In March someone managed to defeat the Vista activation scheme [1], Windows OneCare finished last in a new comparative test of 17 anti-virus products [2], flaws were detected in Windows Vista [3] while Vista security was criticized by Symantec [4]. Then to top it off, an update to the AV Engine in Windows Live OneCare locked Outlook users out of their email because it decided to quarantine the entire email catalog .PST file if it found a single infected message [5]. Maybe April will be better for Microsoft; April 1 sounds like good start ;>)

No Microsoft security updates were released in March so expect April to be a biggy.

[1] http://apcmag.com/5512/pirate_crack_vista_oem_activation
[2] http://www.av-comparatives.org
[3] http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,129536-c,vistalonghorn/article.html
[4] http://www.infoworld.com/article/07/02/28/HNsymcvistaresearch_1.html
[5] http://news.com.com/2061-10794_3-6165691.html?part=rss&tag=2547-1_3-0-5&subj=news


3.2 Firefox Updated to V2.0.0.2
On the 23rd of February Mozilla issued another update for V2 of Firefox that offers better Vista compatibility, several bug fixes and patches for nine potential problems. Also released were new versions of Firefox V1.5.0.10 and SeaMonkey V1.1.1 with corresponding patches. The nine security problems patched include some potentially serious flaws. To my knowledge there are no current exploits in circulation that utilize any of these flaws. However, it is essential that you update as the malware developers routinely reverse engineer security updates to identify flaws to exploit in unpatched machines. Users with automatic updates enabled should have had the new version automatically delivered and installed. You can check by selecting Help / About from within Firefox. If your version number is less than V2.0.0.2 then update manually from here [1]. Note: although not documented in the Firefox release notes, the latest version also appears to have fixed a problem I was having where copies of Firefox that had been minimized for long periods would take up vast chunks of memory and chew up my processor cycles.
http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/

3.3 Cloud Descends Over Top BitTorrent Clients
The small, fast BitTorrent client uTorrent came out of nowhere to quickly establish itself as the darling of the BitTorrent set. However, its recent sale to BitTorrent.com has stunned the community as BitTorrent.com is seen as rather too close to the digital rights folks for comfort. As a reflection of this concern, uTorrent.com has recently been blocked by the popular PeerGuardian program [3] employed by BitTorrent users to avoid the peering eyes of the RIAA and other copyright police. Concerned uTorrent users are now turning to other clients such as the open source Azureus [4], though it too recently raised some eyebrows when it was found that recent versions do some user behavior tracking. Frankly I think this latter concern is overstated as the source code of Azureus is available for all to inspect.
[1] http://www.utorrent.com/
[2] http://www.bittorrent.com/
[3] http://phoenixlabs.org/2006/03/07/the-%C2%B5torrent-fiasco
[4] http://azureus.sourceforge.net/

3.4 New Version of Top Anonymous Surfing Program
TorPark is a special portable version of Firefox that incorporates the free Tor anonymizing service that allows you to surf anonymously by relaying your connection through a chain of special Tor servers. It created quite a sensation when it was released last year as it provided users with an easy way to surf anonymously without going through the hassle of configuring complex network settings. It could also be run from a USB flash drive which made it ideal for use on public terminals. A new version has just been released based on Firefox V2.0.0.2 rather than V1.5 used in the original. Additionally, a new optional pay service has been introduced that allows much faster surfing, one of the known drawbacks of the Tor service. Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 11.0MB
http://www.torrify.com/software_torpark.html

3.5 Vista Gets Poor Reception
Sales of Vista have been slow; well down on expectations [1]. Additionally it has received bad press from some important industry pundits about its device and software compatibility problems. Indeed LockerGnome's Chris Pirillo has very publicly announced [2] he was "upgrading" his personal PC by removing Vista and going back to Windows XP. Pirillo may well be concerned about upgrading as another flaw in Vista has been discovered where Vista may downgrade your installation to the status of an illegal copy if you install certain third party software it doesn't like, a fault now confirmed by Microsoft. And the unkindest cut of them all: Gizmo dared to suggest in his February editorial [4] that you shouldn't upgrade to Vista but rather wait until you buy a new PC, Now I bet that one had Bill really shaking in his boots :>)
[1] http://www.afterdawn.com/news/archive/8726.cfm
[2] http://chris.pirillo.com/2007/02/27/windows-vista-im-breaking-up-with-you/
[3] http://blogs.zdnet.com/Bott/?p=221
[4] http://techsupportalert.com/issues/issue142.htm#Section_0


4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 Good Prices on Computer Software
Subscriber Mikel Peterson writes, "Gizmo, this site has some of the best prices on software I've seen. It's especially useful for those of us with older PCs. It's reliable, too - I've made several purchases without a problem." Looks good Mikel. I cross checked some of their prices against Froogle [2] and found they hold up pretty well.
[1] http://www.nothingbutsoftware.com/productlist_page/show/greatbuys/SearchPage/1
[2] http://froogle.google.com/

4.2 New Utility from SysInternals
I'm a great admirer of the utilities from SysInternals but subscriber Martin Cowen spotted this new one from Mark Russinovich that I missed. "ZoomIt is a screen zoom and annotation tool for technical presentations that includes application demonstrations. ZoomIt runs unobtrusively in the tray and activates with customizable hotkeys to zoom in on an area of the screen, move around while zoomed, and draw on the zoomed image. I wrote ZoomIt to fit my specific needs and use it in all my presentations. ZoomIt works on all versions of Windows." Nice find, Mark.
http://www.microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/utilities/zoomit.mspx

4.3 Weapon of Mass Destruction for Geeks
Take revenge on the guy down the aisle with the USB powered coffee warmer [1] by targeting his coffee mug with this USB powered missile launcher [2].
[1] http://www.cyberguys.com/templates/searchdetail.asp?ProductID=9959
[2] http://www.thinkgeek.com/geektoys/cubegoodies/86b8/

4.4 Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service
This excellent article suggested by regular contributor JW should be mandatory reading for all tech support staff. In fact, mandatory reading for anyone in a service industry.
http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/customerservice.html

4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
This Flash diversion lets you become the King of Gravity. I got hooked - like, seriously hooked. And I thought I was inured to the attractions of Flash games. Then again, I thought I was inured to Puccini's emotional tricks and that proved to be a fantasy as well.
http://www.thecleverest.com/content/attractors.html

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.6 Free Games from Microsoft
Subscriber Robert Kolts writes, "Gizmo, Microsoft has a wide range of free games for download. Not exactly the latest stuff, but hey, it appeals to the kid in us all. Some are demos but a lot are the full games."
http://tinyurl.com/2pat9d (windowsmarketplace.com)

4.7 Tax Filing for Nix
James Fogarty writes, "Gizmo, this site explains where you can get your taxes done free." Hmm, just missed 2007, may be useful for 2008.
http://tech.yahoo.com/blogs/devlin/7679/how-to-file-taxes-for-free

4.8 How To Tell Whether Your Anti-Spyware Program is Itself Spyware
It's a sad fact that many of the so called anti-spyware programs in circulation are frauds designed to generate false alerts to panic users into buying them. Worse still, some are themselves spyware. Check this list to see if your product is clean. The moral here is to stick to known and reputable products such as SpySweeper, Spyware Doctor, CounterSpy and Ewido.
http://spywarewarrior.com/rogue_anti-spyware.htm


5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Ensure You Don't Have Vulnerable Software on Your PC

If you want to keep your PC secure it's essential that all your software is kept up to date with the latest security patches.

When I say all your software, I mean all, not just Windows and Office. For example, is your version of Adobe Reader up-to-date? How recent is your Java and your Flash plug-in? Well, I hope they are up-to-date as earlier versions of all these products have critical security flaws that could allow an intruder to take over your PC.

As a typical PC may have dozens of products installed it's a big task to ensure each and every product has been updated. However, security company Secunia has just made it a lot easier.
Secunia is offering a free online scan of your software that checks the product versions you are running against their extensive database of known flaws. You get a full report showing what products to update and where to get the updates. It's Java based so will run on any modern browser and the whole thing only takes a minute or so.

Every one of my PCs needed at least one product update. This came as a shock to me as I consider myself quite diligent in keeping my software up-to-date.

This is one of the best free security services I've seen so make a visit to this site part of your regular PC maintenance. Thanks to David Hahn for letting me know about this.

http://secunia.com/software_inspector/


6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 The Best Free Windows Clipboard Replacement
This review was written by subscriber Daniel Livingston.

There are many clipboard managers out there but only a few that do what I want, the way I want.
Clipx [1] and Clipomatic [2] are excellent. They are both fast, lightweight, easy to use and use few system resources. When you press a programmable hotkey they launch a pop-up menu of clips to select. The clip selection can be made via mouse or keyboard shortcut thus enabling completion of the entire copy/select/paste process to be made by keyboard alone. They have options to record and display a variable number of clips, as well as to store permanent clips such as text snippets. Both use less than 1MB memory so any system can afford to have them running continuously.

Clipomatic is a bit slicker to use and has more robust permanent item functionality but its real limitation is that it is text only. ClipX will do everything Clipomatic will (although you need to add a plug-in to enable the permanent clip function, available from the same site as ClipX) plus copy images.

The only reason I've stopped using those two is because they only keep a limited number of clips. They can hold 30+ but everything they hold is displayed on the hotkey popup and if you set them high the popup gets pretty big and cluttered. If you keep the popup slim and small, you only get to keep a limited clip history.

There are other clip utilities that record full histories but most of them fail in simplicity of use. ClipMagic [3] and Yankee Clipper III [4] are two decent ones that record, sort, and archive huge histories and both do it well. But they are overkill; more like clipboard Personal Information Managers than utilities. And the cost of this overkill is the loss of simplicity of operation.

ArsClip [5] is a product that offers a perfect balance between functionality and ease of use. It has the fast and light features of Clipomatic and ClipX but also records a long history of clips. Intelligently, the popup only displays a limited number of clips but the rest of the history is just one click further away. The history is also searchable. ArsClip has permanent items, but expands the basic ability and lets you create several different groups of permanent clips (like forum responses, email addresses, sigs, etc.), each displayed as separate cascading menus on the popup. ArsClip also allows easy one-click editing of clips. To top it all off, ArsClip requires no installation and can be run from a portable drive so you can easily tote all your clips with you.

For those with undemanding clip management needs, ClipX and Clipomatic are both fine choices. They are efficient tiny utilities that, while simple, still enormously increase the functionality of the Windows clipboard. ClipMagic and YCIII are more like full-blown clip management applications rather than utilities, but do offer excellent sorting and archiving if you're a digital packrat. ArsClip is my favorite, offering speed and effortless functionality while hanging on to a wealth of data.

All of these tools offer great advantages over the standard Windows Clipboard. So pick what's right for your needs knowing that whatever you chose you'll wonder how you ever lived without it.

[1] http://bluemars.org/clipx/ Freeware, All Windows versions, 108KB
[2] http://www.mlin.net/Clipomatic.shtml Freeware, All Windows versions, 95KB
[3] http://www.clipmagic.com/ Freeware, Win98 and later, 1.88MB
[4] http://www.intelexual.com/products/YC3/ Freeware, All Windows, 1MB
[5] http://www.joejoesoft.com/vcms/97/ Freeware. All Windows 600KB.

** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **

6.2 The Best Free Uninstaller

Most freeware uninstallers are just replacements for the Windows Add/Remove Programs applet. They don't really uninstall programs but rather provide a user interface to run the uninstallers that are supplied with most programs.

These so-called uninstallers are useful but don't address the problem of what to do when the supplied uninstall program fails. This is both common and serious. At the very least, your PC may be cluttered by a lot of garbage files and registry entries. At the worst, your PC may not work at all.

To prevent this from happening you need a different kind of uninstaller: one that monitors and records exactly what changes a program makes when it installs on your PC. This kind of uninstaller can, if necessary, genuinely remove all traces of the program by simply reversing the changes it logged during installation.

There are a number of such programs available as commercial software. These include Ashampoo Uninstaller Platinum 2 ($49.99), Your Uninstaller! 2006 Pro ($39.99) and Advanced Uninstaller Pro ($39) but there is only one decent freeware program. Fortunately, it happens to be a very effective product.

It's called ZSoft Uninstaller. Like all programs in this class, you need to tell ZSoft Uninstaller to monitor an installation before you do the install otherwise the uninstaller doesn't know what has changed. ZSoft Uninstaller does this by taking a file and registry snapshot both before and after the install and then does a comparison to find what's changed.

On my PC each snapshot took about 90 seconds. That's hardly instantaneous but a short time compared to unpicking a failed installation by hand.

This before and after approach is not foolproof as other files may change in your system during the install which are unrelated to the installation. If you then uninstall using ZSoft Uninstaller these changes will also be reversed with possible harmful consequences.

It's not likely but possible. That's why I recommend using this kind of uninstaller only when the uninstaller provided with the program fails. There's no point risking problems when you don't have to.

ZSoft Uninstaller can attempt to repair uninstalls that went wrong even if ZSoft Uninstaller was not used to monitor the installation. However, I'd only be tempted to use this feature in an emergency.

These reservations aside, ZSoft Uninstaller is a fine product and deserves a place in your PC toolkit.

Thanks to Clayton Poole, Leib Moscovitz and Clif, the editor of the excellent "Clif Notes" newsletter ( http://freewarewiki.com/) for letting me know about this product.

http://www.zsoft.dk/
Freeware, Windows XP, 898KB.

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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>

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Thanks to subscriber A. Belile for proofreading this issue.

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Support Alert is a registered online serial publication ISSN 1448-7020. Content of this newsletter is (c) Copyright TechSupportAlert.com, 2007

See you next issue. It will be published on the 12th of April.

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com