gizmo richards' support alert newsletter

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

Premium Edition
Issue
144, 12th April, 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: Selecting the right anti-virus product

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 Search Back Issues of this Newsletter Online
1.2 How to Save YouTube and Other Streamed Video Files
1.3 Free Tech Support for Consumer Appliances
1.4 Excellent Free Online Backup and File Sharing Service
1.5 Yahoo Mail Soon to Offer Unlimited Storage
1.6 Free Software Version Updater
1.7 Reinstalling Windows the Easy Way (Premium Edition)
1.8 Computer Magazine Site Offers Substance (Premium Edition)
1.9 Free Firewalls That Work With Vista (Premium Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Review: SUPERAntispyware
2.2 Free Utility Color Calibrates Your Monitor
2.3 Linux as an Alternative to Vista: Part Two
2.4 Best Free Download/Upload Meter
2.5 Excellent Free Program Minimizer
2.6 Nifty Free Tray Clock Solves Calendar Problem
2.7 Convert Normal Programs to Portable Software (Premium Edition)
2.8 The Best Free Hex Editor (Premium Edition)
2.9 Free Program Makes XP Reduced User Privileges Workable (Premium Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 Comodo to Offer Top Real-time Scanner for Free
3.3 Vista Woes Continue
3.4 Vista Upgrade Problems
3.5 Firefox Updated to V2.0.0.3
3.6 Support for Firefox V1.5 Ending
3.7 GriSoft Releases Free AVG Anti Rootkit Scanner
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Kaspersky AV 6 for $19.95
4.2 Texture Generator Creates Wallpaper and More
4.3 Free Editor Scrolls Text Like a Teleprompter
4.4 Stream Your Home Media Files to a Remote PC
4.5 Forty Two Uses for RSS/Atom Feeds
4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.7 A Top Media Player for Your USB Flash Drive (Premium Edition)
4.8 Google Earth Maps Without the Big Downloads (Premium Edition)
4.9 Make Free Internet Phone Calls Using Dial-up Lines (Premium Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Add Notes to Your Files and Folders
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 A Free Utility That Stops Programs Hogging Your PC
6.2 How to Tell Whether Your Hard Drive is about to Fail (Premium Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

0.0 EDITORIAL

In the last three issues I outlined my revised approach to computer security. This new approach is not idle speculation but the result of over a year of intense testing of modern malware agents as well as the latest security products.

At the heart of this approach is an increased emphasis on preventing malware ever getting onto your computer as opposed to trying to detect it once it is on your PC or removing it if it manages to infect your PC.

The key to prevention is the use of good personal security practices combined with the use of a sandbox for surfing, opening email attachments and installing any unknown programs. This approach is fleshed out in more detail here:
http://techsupportalert.com/issues/issue141.htm#Section_0

This approach however, is not enough by itself. You still need active protection on your PC, but not as much as you would need if you adopted a less proactive approach to preventing malware from getting on your PC.

If you use good security practices as well as a sandbox, you only need one, maybe two active security products running on your PC. If you don't, you'll possibly need three or four.

So, if you only need one or two active security products, what are the best choices?

Without a doubt the first product should be an anti-virus scanner. That's because AV scanners offer more powerful detection and protection than anti-spyware, anti-trojan and other specialized security products. Not only are they more powerful they also have the ability to detect a wider range of malware menaces than the other products. Indeed good AV products can detect trojans, keyloggers, spyware and rootkits in addition to viruses and worms.

The choice of a second product is moot. Indeed it may not even be required but more of that later. Today we will look at AV scanners.

Let's first consider the requirements:

1. The product must have good, broad spectrum scanning detection. It needs to be able to detect any malware you have downloaded in your sandbox before you run it. Similarly it must detect anything that you have accidentally downloaded or copied to your "real" PC. In other words, it must work well within and outside your sandbox.

2. It must have a first class memory monitor. Some malware programs are so well hidden that they can't be detected by file scanning however they can almost always be detected by a good monitor when the malware is run.

3. Email protection. Although I recommend opening email attachments in a sandbox, it's useful to know an attachment is infected before it is opened.

4. Self protection. Modern malware products routinely will try to pull down your defenses. The best security products actively defend themselves against been terminated by hostile agents.

5. Protection against new, previously unknown threats. The exploitation of previously unknown product flaws (so called zero day threats) is becoming increasingly common. That's why you need a product with good behavioral/heuristic detection in addition to signature based detection.

6. Polymorphic detection. To avoid detection by their signature, modern malware threats are commonly coded using a technique called polymorphic encryption that ensures each individual copy of the threat looks different to any other. The best scanners can still detect these rodents despite their disguise.

7. Resource usage. Protection is a good thing but you still want your PC to be run quickly.

Let's see how some poplar AV scanners shape up. My main emphasis is on free products but I've included several well known commercial products as well.

In the table below, I've rated the products on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best rating. My ratings are based on information from a wide set of sources including my own published tests, AV Comparatives and the Virus Bulletin.

Product Price File Scanner Memory Monitor Email Scanner Self Protection 0-Day Protection Polymorphic Detection Resource Usage
                 
AOL AVS Free 5 5 5 3 2 4 2
Alwil Avast! Free 4+ 4+ 4+ 1 2 2 5
Avira AntiVir Free 5+ 5+ - 1 5 5 4
Grisoft AVG Free 4 4 4 1 1 2 5
BitDefender AV Free 5 - - n.a. 4 4 3
Kaspersky AV $49.95 5 5 5 3 2 4 2
Eset NOD32 $39.00 5 5 5 5 5 5+ 5
Norton AV 2007 $39.99 5 5 5 5 2 5+ 1

As you can see, Avira Personal and AOL AVS are on balance, the best of the free products though neither is without problems.

The free Avira lacks an email scanner; that's only available in the paid version. The self protection is also poor - it can be terminated with Windows Task manager. The free version also constantly nags you to upgrade.

The Kaspersky-based AOL AVS lacks the html scanner found in the full Kaspersky product and consequently doesn't offer the same level of protection against hostile sites. It's also quite heavy on resources and is not suitable for slower PCs. AOL AVS can be terminated by a hostile agent as well, though it puts up more of a fight than Avira. Finally, the AOL end user licensing agreement (EULA) has some worrying features including the right to send you unsolicited email and to give your email address to third parties.

Avira's lack of email scanning and AOL's problem with hostile sites can be set aside if you are prepared to do all your browsing in a sandbox and to only open your email attachments in a sandbox. If you have the discipline to do this then you have two fine products available, though unfortunately both can be terminated. Of the two, I would lean towards Avira as it's lighter on resources and doesn't have the problems of the AOL EULA.

But most users lack the discipline to consistently use a sandbox. They may aspire to do so, but pressure and circumstance may not allow it.

If that's you then I suggest you consider one of the commercial products, as I don't think the other free products are fully up to the task. AVG and Avast! have poor detection of polymorphic and 0-day malware in addition to having limited self protection while the free BitDefender lacks a real time monitor as well as email scanning.

Of the commercial products I favor NOD32 as it provides first class detection, yet is light on resources. The $19.95 paid version of Avira is also a fine choice, providing the same or slightly better protection as NOD32 at the cost of slightly heavier resource usage. Kaspersky and Norton AV are also sound options provided you have a fast PC.

If you are an average user and you follow the safe practices I suggested at the beginning of this editorial and combine that with one of these commercial AV products, then that's all the protection you probably need. High risk users such as P2P users will need more but that's a separate story.

If you simply can't afford to buy a commercial product, there are other options. That's what I'll be talking about next month. See you then.

Declaration of interest: I do not sell, derive any commission from nor carry advertising for any of the products mentioned in this editorial.

Gizmo
supporters@techsupportalert.com


PS
Next month's issue will be published a week later than normal on the 24th of May as I'll be taking a break. I will be out of email contact from roughly April 20 - April 30. All email will be answered when I return.



1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 Search Back Issues of this Newsletter Online
Trying to locate a utility you remember reading about in a previous issue of this newsletter? You can locate it easily by doing an online back issue search at my website. The search program indexes every published issue of Support Alert. That's a lot of information so you might be quite surprised by what you find. On the same page you can read all back issues and download any missed issue by simply right clicking on the issue link and selecting "Save as ..."
http://techsupportalert.com/issues/back_issues.htm

1.2 How to Save YouTube and Other Streamed Video Files
There are lots of ways to do this but one of the easiest is to use the free KeepVid web service. Just paste the video link into the KeepVid site [1] and then download the video to your PC as an avi file, Flash file (flv) or as an MP4 for your iPod or PSP. Firefox users have another easy option by using the free DownloadHelper extension [2] that allows you to save YouTube, MySpace, Google videos, DailyMotion, Porkolt, iFilm, DreamHost and many other streams by simply clicking the special DownloadHelper toolbar icon. Thanks to Hopper for the latter suggestion.
[1] http://keepvid.com/
[2] http://www.downloadhelper.net/

1.3 Free Tech Support for Consumer Appliances
In recent issues I've mentioned a number of forum based tech support sites that can help you solve your computer problems for nix. Here's another forum site that deals with all your consumer appliance problems including digital cameras, TVs, printers, games consoles and more. You can post computer problems as well. Indeed, the motherboard section appears to be quite active. Navigating the site takes a little getting used to as it doesn't follow the normal forum pattern. The trick is to search a brand or product then click the "Get support" link. Registration is required before you can ask a question. Don't get too excited as there are over 13000 unsolved problems listed.
http://www.fixya.com/

1.4 Excellent Free Online Backup and File Sharing Service
I recently had a need to setup a simple online backup system for a neighbor. There are dozens of free online storage services but I've only tried five of them. The one that impressed me most was Omnidrive. They offer full commercial packages but their free service provides 1GB of storage space with a 5GB maximum monthly transfer and has optional file sharing. However, what impressed me most about Omnidrive was that it provides a solution for not only online backup but a range of other services including file sharing, collaborative authoring, the capacity to send large files to your friends and remote access to your files from any PC. Particularly impressive is the ability to edit text, images, Word, HTML or Excel files on the server without needing to download them and upload the whole file. The Web 2interface is fast and effective though most users will probably choose to download and install the Desktop Client that provides for file drop and drag using an Explorer style interface. It's a bit incomplete and has a few bugs (such as the context menu "Publish" option that hangs your PC) but there is so much to like that I'm happy to live with these deficiencies. This impressive service provides a true one stop solution to a whole range of separate issues. And yes, it's free.
http://www.omnidrive.com/

1.5 Yahoo Mail Soon to Offer Unlimited Storage
Starting in May 2007 Yahoo will start phasing in unlimited storage for its email account users. That's all well and fine but what about more reliably delivering this newsletter to Yahoo subscribers? In recent months Yahoo has taken over from AOL as the number one non-delivery offender.
http://yodel.yahoo.com/2007/03/27/yahoo-mail-goes-to-infinity-and-beyond/

1.6 Free Software Version Updater
Subscriber Ed Zwart wrote to tell me that Filehippo, the well known download site, is offering a free program [1] that will check the versions of software installed on your PC and let you know if later versions are available. It's only a beta, but it seemed to work well finding a lot of updates for my software that I didn't know existed. It even reports beta versions where available. That's fine but remember that later versions of programs are not necessarily better versions. Also don't confuse this with the other services that check your PC for software that may have security flaws such as the excellent Secunia service I mentioned last issue [2].
[1] http://www.filehippo.com/updatechecker/
[2] http://techsupportalert.com/issues/issue143.htm#Section_5.1

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

1.7 Reinstalling Windows the Easy Way
In issue #127 I mentioned the MSFN site [1] that shows you how to create an automated, unattended Windows installation CD that incorporates all service packs and subsequent Windows Updates. It's still the best single guide on the web, but regular contributor JW recently wrote in to tell me about an alternative approach to re-installing Windows that works just as well. It involves the use of two free programs. The first is AutoStreamer [2]. It allows you to incorporate Windows Service Packs into your Windows installation CD. This process, called slipstreaming, can be done in different ways but using AutoStreamer is the easiest I've seen. Once you have your installation CD updated with the latest service packs, the next step is to add in the latest Windows Updates using the AutoPatcher [3]utility. This is normally a nightmare of a task involving lengthy online sessions downloading dozens of files from the Windows Update service, but AutoPatcher greatly simplifies this by allowing you download a single cumulative file containing all the updates. If you now want to go whole hog and make an unattended installation disk you can follow the relevant instructions at MSFN [1] or from here [4] while Sysadmins and advanced users may want to check out this technical guide [5].
[1] http://unattended.msfn.org/
[2] http://www.neowin.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=223562 Freeware, Win2K and later, 844KB
[3] http://www.autopatcher.com/whatsautopatcher/ Freeware, All 32bit Windows versions,
300+MB
[4] http://www.pcstats.com/articleview.cfm?articleID=1703
[5] http://unattended.sourceforge.net/ Free Open Source, Win 2K Pro & Server, XP, 2003,
18MB

1.8 Computer Magazine Site Offers Substance
Last month in the Premium Edition I mentioned the excellent U.K. based site [1] operated by the publisher V.N.U. that sometimes offers free downloads of older versions of commercial software products. Subscriber Doug de Hart has written to let me know about the website of the Canadian Computer magazine "Monitor." It's not flashy, but the content is excellent and the ads are quite laid back. As Doug says "Most of these computer tabloids are all fluff, but not this one."
[1] http://www.vnunet.com
[2] http://www.monitor.ca/monitor/

1.9 Free Firewalls That Work With Vista
I'm getting this question a lot. The simple answer is hardly any [1]. The good news is that several vendors are working on the problem and hopefully things will improve. In the interim, the firewall that comes with Vista is the best yet from Microsoft and is quite a capable product for inbound protection. It can also be tweaked [2].
[1] http://forums.majorgeeks.com/showthread.php?p=948958
[2] http://tinyurl.com/2okjkv  (windowsdevcenter.com)


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



2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 Review: SUPERAntispyware
I've been wanting to review this product [1] for some time as it's been getting favorable mention in some security forums. SUPERAntispyware (SAS) comes in a free version and a $29.95 Pro version. The main difference is the free has no real-time monitors and needs to be updated manually. The lack of active protection is a real minus. Modern malware is so aggressive that it's much more effective to put your efforts into preventing infection rather than cleaning up your PC after you have become infected. Given this, I decided to test the Pro version. Initial impressions were very favorable. It installs easily, asks all the right questions and has an attractive and well designed user interface. Unlike a number of other anti-spyware programs, it didn't seem to slow my PC down to any noticeable degree. My lab test results [2] were less happy. SAS Pro failed to detect any of the five commercial keyloggers I tried and in fact couldn't detect any of the four different keylogging techniques used by keyloggers. It also couldn't detect process injection, nor process memory space violation, (two common malware techniques) nor could it detect the installation of a trojan server. Apart from protecting your browser's home page, it provided little or no protection against critical areas in the registry and startup folder. When I browsed to three hostile websites SAS protected against one but failed to prevent infection with the other two even though some warnings were issued by SAS. In scanning tests, it failed to detect malware in any the 12 different archive types from my test data set. Similarly it missed malware packed with any of 11 different packers. Perhaps most seriously, SAS Pro doesn't protect itself from termination by a hostile agent. In fact, it can be terminated by Windows Task Manager, the simplest and easiest method. It wasn't all bad though. SAS Pro did detect four of the five loaded downloads and it also detected one of two rootkits I tried. Resource usage was also quite low confirming my subjective observation that SAS Pro won't have much effect on your PCs performance. SAS Pro is also one of the few anti-spyware products that runs on Windows 98 and ME and this is a real attraction to users of these Windows versions. So what do I think? If you want to protect your PC from spyware infection, SAS Pro is not your best option. In this area SpySweeper and Spyware Doctor, though themselves imperfect, remain your best bet. But what of the free version of SAS? Well, this is going to provide even less protection than SAS Pro as it has no real-time monitors. I'm also reluctant to recommend the free version even as an on-demand scanner as SAS's failure to detect any kind of archived or packed malware may lead users to a false sense of security. However, SAS has developed an excellent reputation for the removal of an existing spyware infection. I have not tested this aspect myself but if you do find yourself stuck with a difficult to remove spyware infection, it is certainly worth trying. Commercial software, $29.95, free trial, free limited feature version available for private users, Windows 98 and later, 5.5MB
[1] http://www.superantispyware.com
[2] http://techsupportalert.com/Security%20Tests/SuperAntiSpyware%20Pro%203.6.1.htm

2.2 Free Utility Color Calibrates Your Monitor
A subscriber recently asked me how he could be sure that his monitor was displaying colors accurately. I forwarded the request to subscriber Tony Bennett who is THE man when it comes to graphics. Here's what Tony said: "Gizmo if a user just wants to run normal Windows programs or play games then there's no need to color calibrate. However for graphics or photography work it's essential. Indeed you should really calibrate both your monitor and printer as these go hand in hand. Many monitors come with a calibration set and this should be your starting point. If you don't have it, go the manufacturer's web site to see if you can download it. They may also have custom calibration software available. In addition to your monitor controls, it's possible to alter color settings using your graphics card or software applications like Adobe Gamma that comes with Photoshop. That sounds great but it often causes users to fall into the trap of calibrating several times using all available options. This is a mistake; calibrate only once otherwise you will be over compensating. The most important thing though, is to understand what you are doing. That's why I recommend users visit Norman Koren's website [1] before doing anything. It's a bit technical but color calibration IS technical. If you find Norman's site a bit overwhelming then this site [2] may be better. Both of these sites have links to software and reference images, but for the calibration process itself, most casual users would be better off using a little freeware program called the 'Monitor Calibration Wizard' [3]. It will give results that are more than adequate for most applications. A final word: getting color right sounds like a simple issue but it's not. It's a matter taken very seriously by graphics and photography professionals and they dedicate an appropriate amount of time to addressing the problem. Indeed many professionals calibrate their equipment every six months or so to ensure that the quality is always at its best." Freeware, all Windows versions, 771KB.
[1] http://www.normankoren.com/makingfineprints1A.html#Monitorsetup
[2] http://www.e-cobo.com/stockphotos/quality/calibration.php
[3] http://www.hex2bit.com/products/product_mcw.asp

2.3 Linux as an Alternative to Vista: Part Two
Briard's funny and engaging account last month [1] of his attempts to replace Windows with Linux generated an enormous response from subscribers to this newsletter. It also whipped some parts of the Linux community into a frenzy. Briard has written a follow-up article addressing the many suggestions (and criticisms) he received [2].
[1] http://www.techsupportalert.com/review-linux-for-windows-users.htm
[2] http://www.techsupportalert.com/review-linux-for-windows-users-part-2.htm

2.4 Best Free Download/Upload Meter
NetMeter [1] shows upload and download speeds, along with cumulative weekly and monthly volumes and projected values. The program reminds me in many ways of Hagel's excellent $20 shareware product "DU Meter." Its only downside is that there doesn't appear to be much active development going on. A good alternative, if you have the Microsoft .NET package V1.1 already installed, is BitMeter II from Codebox Software [2]. It's a little more feature rich than NetMeter but uses a tad more of your PCs resources to deliver those features. Subscriber Boon Tan recently suggested a third candidate called NET Traffic Meter [3]. Feature wise this is closer to BitMeter II than NetMeter and like BitMeter requires the .NET framework, though in this case V2.0 rather than 1.1. From the web site it appears a new version 3.0 is imminent. It will have more features still, including traffic statistics for each program that uses your network.
[1] http://readerror.gmxhome.de/ Freeware, all Windows versions, 601KB
[2] http://codebox.no-ip.net/controller?page=bitmeter2 Freeware, Win98 and later, 0.99MB
[3] http://www.trafficmeter.be/Freeware Win98 and later excluding Vista, 1.01MB

2.5 Excellent Free Program Minimizer
The ability to minimize a program to an icon in the system tray is a useful feature that saves valuable space on your task bar. Some programs have this feature built in but many don't. It is possible however, to minimize any program to a tray icon by using a third party utility. My top recommendation has long been TrayIt! [1] but subscriber Matt Hall recently wrote "Gizmo, a good alternative to TrayIt! is PowerMenu. It works slightly differently: first it gives the option to minimize to system tray on a context menu rather than by using the Ctrl key. Second it has additional options to keep the window always on top and also set priority and transparency. Like Trayit!, it doesn't need to be installed." Good suggestion Matt. Both programs work well, though TrayIt! seems to be an active project while PowerMenu hasn't been updated for some time. Also, some of the additional PowerMenu features only work for Windows NT and later.
[1] http://www.teamcti.com/trayit/trayit.htm Freeware, all Windows version, 66KB
[2] http://www.veridicus.com/tummy/programming/powermenu/ Freeware, all Windows ,
49KB

2.6 Nifty Free Tray Clock Solves Calendar Problem
You know the problem: you want to quickly look at a calendar so you double click the tray clock to bring up the Windows Date and Calendar Applet. You then have to flick forward a couple of months to the date you want. Then you have to flick back to ensure that you don't accidentally change the system date. It's all so tedious. LClock is a tray clock replacement that solves this by popping up its own calendar with a single click on the tray clock. And it's not just a static calendar: you can use it for reminders and to-dos. It all works marvelously well and as a bonus you get a clock display that looks like the one in Vista. LClock is based on TClock lite that I featured in Issue #139. It's highly customizable but unfortunately unlike TClock Lite, LClock doesn't allow a simultaneous time and date display. Ah, perfection is so elusive ;>) Many thanks to subscriber Fred Hayes for the suggestion. Freeware, Windows XP, XP64, 2003, 186KB.
http://fileforum.betanews.com/detail/1092761816/1

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **


2.7 Convert Normal Programs to Portable Software
Any program that can be run from a standard .exe file without the need for installation can be run perfectly well from a USB stick. However, quite a lot of .exe files are actually installer files or special archives containing multiple files. Universal Extractor is a free utility designed to extract the individual files from many different kinds of archives including msi, .cab and a wide range of .exe installer packages. Once you have extracted the files, it may be possible to find a stand-alone executable for use on your USB stick, though it's more likely that you will also need the supporting dlls. Be aware that many programs absolutely require installation and simply wont work as portable apps. It is surprising though, just how many you can get to work. Another trick worth trying is to install the application on your normal PC and then copy the whole installation directory to your USB drive. This often works fine though note that your newly created "portable app" may write to the registry of the host PC. Universal Extractor is a free, open source program. It works on all Windows versions and is a 4.59MB download.
http://www.legroom.net/software/uniextract

2.8 The Best Free Hex Editor
If you have ever accidentally opened an .exe program file in a text editor such as Notepad you will have been confronted with a mass of unintelligible garbage on your screen. Worse still if you wrote the .exe file back to disk the program file would almost certainly be corrupted and would not work. That's because text editors are designed only to work with text files such as .txt, .bat, .prg and .html. To view and safely change binary files such as .exe, .com and .dll files you need a hex editor, sometimes called a binary editor. Whatever, most average PC users have no need for such a program but techies and gamers find them indispensable.
There are some excellent free hex editors available that range from the small and simple to some advanced products that are the equal of any commercial product. In total I looked at seven products: HexEdit [1], Cygnus Free [2], Hxd [3], Hexplorer [4] HHD Free [5], FrHed [6] and XVI32 [7]. Hex editors (like programming editors) are a software category where personal needs and preferences are so important that it is meaningless to pick a "best" product. Instead I encourage all potential users to test several or all of the products and choose what suits them best. That of course doesn't stop me stating what I like. For my needs, Hxd is a clear winner. Its first virtue is that it doesn't need installing. Second, it has a great interface. Third, it handles huge files without slowing down. Then add in unlimited undo, great searching and search/replace capabilities, full support for ANSI, DOS/IBM-ASCII and EBCDIC character plus a dozen other features and you can see why I like it. But it doesn't stop there. Hxd also works as a RAW disk editor and a full read/write RAM editor. It's three utilities rolled into one.
This power makes it a dangerous tool in the hands of beginners. It may also give your security software apoplexy, but users skilled enough to use this product will understand this not a concern. Is it perfect? Of course not. To start, it lacks binary file comparison capability and the ability to extract text strings and a built in disassembler would also be nice. There are also a few bugs. However what it does offer is so impressive that it's hard to believe this fine product is free.
[1] http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~prewett/hexedit/
[2] http://www.softcircuits.com/cygnus/fe/
[3] http://www.mh-nexus.de/hxd/
[4] https://sourceforge.net/projects/hexplorer/
[5] http://www.hhdsoftware.com/Family/hex-editor.html
[6] http://www.kibria.de/frhed.html
[7] http://www.chmaas.handshake.de/delphi/freeware/xvi32/xvi32.htm

2.9 Free Program Makes XP Reduced User Privileges Workable
Sudo for Windows is a program that provides on-the-spot escalation of privileges for users running Windows reduced privilege accounts. It works in a similar way to the well known and widely used Linux "sudo" command. I've never clearly understood exactly how sudo differed from the Windows Run-as command until I read this excellent article [1]. The article also explains why the Vista user access model is deficient. Essential reading for sysadmins and those with an interest in security. If anyone is running Sudo for Windows [2], I'd like to hear about your experiences with the product.
[1] http://www.sans.org/reading_room/whitepapers/bestprac/1726.php
[2] http://sudowin.sourceforge.net

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
During the month exploits utilizing a number of serious flaws in the way Windows handles animated cursors started circulating on the Internet. The flaws affect all Windows versions from Win2k onwards including Vista. The problem was serious, to quote Microsoft: "an attacker who successfully exploited the most severe of these vulnerabilities could take complete control of an affected system. An attacker could then install programs; view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights." The increasingly wide circulation of exploits forced Microsoft to issue a special patch [1] outside of its normal monthly security update cycle. Unfortunately the patch caused problems for some users notably those who like me, have the Realtek HD Audio Control Panel installed. More details here [2]. Thankfully Microsoft fixed the problem with a patch that was included with the monthly "Patch Tuesday" release.

Patch Tuesday the 10th of April saw the release of five patches, including four Windows patches rated "critical." One of the critical patches that involves a flaw in CSRSS, affects Vista as well all other Windows versions after Win2K. Other critical rated patches cover flaws in Microsoft Agent, Universal Plug and Play and the Microsoft Content Management Server.

Surprisingly none of the patches covered known flaws in Microsoft Office, active exploits for which have been in circulation for some time. Worse still three new serious flaws in Office were revealed just the day before Patch Tuesday. Until all these flaws are fixed any unknown Office files must be considered as potentially dangerous and only opened in a sandbox or other safe environment.

Further details of the April updates can be found here [3] while a discussion of implementation issues can be found on this Microsoft blog [4]. All 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 you will need a considerable period of time, online, for them to download successfully. If you have any doubts whether you have received the updates, then visit the Microsoft Update Service [5] now.

[1] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/Bulletin/MS07-017.mspx
[2] http://support.microsoft.com/kb/925902
[3] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms07-apr.mspx
[4] http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/columnItem/0,294698,sid14_gci1243642,00.html
[5] http://update.microsoft.com (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 Comodo to Offer Top memory Monitor for Free
Comodo has acquired Privacy Software Corporation maker BoClean, a highly regarded commercial anti-malware real time monitor. The good news is that "during April", Comodo will release BoClean as a free product. This is a most interesting development. BoClean is simply a memory monitor (it has no file scanner) but it is a first class memory monitor. The fact that it is available for free means a new option for users of free security software. When it's released, I'll put it to the test. I must admit I'm excited about this development.
http://www.comodo.com/news/press_releases/02_04_07.html

3.3 Vista Woes Continue
I'm now getting at least one email every day from disgruntled Vista users. For the most part their complaint is the same: some of their software and/or hardware simply won't work with Vista. I'm in the same boat. I had to remove Vista from the one PC in my office that passed the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor [1] test. Vista worked just fine, but about a third of the utilities I tried out on this test bed PC didn't work. I've now re-installed XP from a drive image and moved Vista to a Virtual PC running under VMWare Workstation 6 beta.
[1] http://tinyurl.com/3b27j6 (microsoft.com)

3.4 Vista Upgrade Problems
Subscriber Larry Woldt recently wrote "Gizmo I bought my wife a new Dell last December that was 'Vista ready'. I then paid ten bucks for the Vista upgrade CD when it became available. There was one slight problem, there was no Vista product key. So, I call up Dell support and they tell me that they can't give me a key, that I have to call an outfit named Zomax to get the product key. By now I figure that Dell didn't send out any product keys with the Vista upgrade; either that or they hired Zomax just to get me my key which I thought was kind of doubtful. It is now three weeks into to this and Zomax has told me 1) it would be five working days or, 2) two working days or 3) four to seven weeks before I would receive my Vista product key. My wife's Dell will stay with Windows XP and I will never buy another Dell in my life." Sad tale Larry but in a way you are lucky. If you had upgraded your XP to Vista you may not have been able to go back to XP as your XP license may well have been invalidated when you installed Vista. See here [1] for more details. The moral: if you are just trying Vista, don't activate before you decide.
http://www.tomcoyote.org/tech/vista-upgrade-invalidates-your-xp-key/74/


3.5 Firefox Updated to V2.0.0.3
Another month, another Firefox security update. Not sure whether to feel worried about all these flaws or comforted that Mozilla is fixing them. Whatever, on the 20th of March Mozilla issued an update for Firefox 2 that fixes "a minor FTP PASV port-scanning vulnerability" as well as providing stability improvements. Also released were the corresponding updates for the older Firefox V1.5 and the SeaMonkey Suite. To my knowledge there are no current exploits in circulation that utilize this flaw 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 V2.0.0.3, then update manually from here [1]:
http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/

3.6 Support for Firefox V1.5 Ending
If you haven't yet upgraded your Firefox V1.5 to version 2, now is the time as Mozilla is ending support for V1.5 on April 24. Just do it folks. You can upgrade from here:
http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/all-older.html

3.7 GriSoft Releases Free AVG Anti Rootkit Scanner
Rootkit scanners tend to fall into one of two groups: highly technical or easy-to-use. Unfortunately the most powerful products such as DarkSpy, RootkitRevealer and GMER fall into the first category which puts them out of the reach of most average users. That's not to say that products in the second category are useless; quite the opposite. Rather they ultimately just not as powerful as their technical counterparts. GriSoft's new AVG Anti Rootkit scanner [1] is very much in the easy-to-use category. In fact usage involves no more than clicking a button to start the scan. In many ways it reminds me of F-Secure's excellent BlackLight Rootkit Eliminator [2] except that it scans even faster. Is it the ultimate rootkit detector? No way, but it's a handy addition to your security toolkit. I'd use it in addition to BlackLight rather than instead.
[1] http://free.grisoft.com/doc/39798/lng/us/tpl/v5
[2] http://www.f-secure.com/blacklight/


4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 Kaspersky AV 6 for $19.95
Subscriber Joseph A. Kane writes "Gizmo, I found Kaspersky Anti-Virus 6.0 for $19.95 at this site [1]. They also have Kaspersky Internet Security Suite for $21.95." Nice find Joseph. These are really sharp prices for a premium product like this. I notice the same site has ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 2007[2] for $25.95 which is the lowest I've seen though at the time I checked they were out of stock.
[1] http://software-blowouts.stores.yahoo.net/kaan60oem.html
[2] http://software-blowouts.stores.yahoo.net/kainse60.html

4.2 Texture Generator Creates Wallpaper and More
When it comes to scouting out useful graphics utilities, regular contributor Tony Bennett has no peer. This suggestion is typical: it's a special graphics editor that allows you to generate seamless textures using inbuilt patterns or using your own images. Great for making your own wallpaper or in general graphics design work. Don't dismiss it lightly; it's more powerful and flexible that this short description can convey. Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 5.9MB.
http://www.imagelys.com/index.htm#Features

4.3 Free Editor Scrolls Text Like a Teleprompter
Here's a neat idea: BPM Notepad is a scrolling text editor that automatically scrolls long documents at a fixed rate. It can easily be paused or restarted. Just the thing for musicians or anyone reading written notes. Free, open source, Windows XP or Linux, 761KB
http://tinyurl.com/2fshbb (linkerror.com)

4.4 Stream Your Home Media Files to a Remote PC
Regular contributor Joe Souza writes " Gizmo, here is some stuff that I did a while back when setting up my media server that your readers might be interested in. It's a way of easy music streaming and quite separately running one central BitTorrent client for an entire network. I posted a thread on it here [1]." Nice bit of work Joe ... with rings on his fingers and bells on his toes Joe shall have music wherever he goes ;>)
http://www.hak5.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=3466

4.5 Forty Two Uses for RSS/Atom Feeds
Including some you would never have thought of. Many thanks to prolific contributor Andreas Büsing for this one.
http://inelegant.org/rss-atom-feeds/

4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department
This harmless diversion came from subscriber Kevin Jones who wrote "Gizmo I saw this in the Wired Geek's April fool section. There's something odd about this photo [1]- see if you can find out what it is." OK Kevin, you got me. Will Kevin get you? This second item [2], a Google video suggested by subscriber Rick Hamrick is simply weird.
[1] http://www.martectx.de/whatswrong.swf
[2] http://video.stumbleupon.com/#p=io1ofa7ra9

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.7 A Top Media Player for Your USB Flash Drive
I recently received this from subscriber Brian Treusch "Gizmo, I came across this freeware media player called "The KMPlayer" that can either be run from a thumb drive or installed. It supports numerous formats even DVD playback. After using it for a while, it has become my favorite player. Goodbye Windows Media 11!" I'd never heard of this Korean player Brian, but boy am I impressed. It comes with a whole batch of inbuilt codecs and support for external codecs as well. In the audio area it supports AC3, DTS, LPCM, MP2, MP3, Vorbis, AAC, WMA, ALAC, AMR, QDM2, FLAC, TTA, IMA ADPCM, QCELP, EVRC, RealAudio and more while with video you can play DivX, XviD, Theora, WMV, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, VP3, VP5, VP6, H263(+), H.264(AVC1), CYUY, ASV1/2, SVQ1/3, MSVIDC, Cinepak, MS MPEG4 V1/2/3, FFV1, VCR1, FLV1, MSRLE, QTRLE Huffyuv, Digital Video, Indeo3, MJPEG, SNOW, TSCC, Dirac, VC-1, RealVideo. It will also play HTTP and MMS streamed content but not RTSP. It is also skinable. I can sure see why you have ditched Windows MP11. To have these features available on a thumb drive is quite extraordinary.
http://www.kmplayer.com/forums/index.php
http://www.kmplayer.com/forums/showthread.php?t=4704 <= Link to download

4.8 Google Earth Maps Without the Big Downloads
"Hey Gizmo! I don't remember ever seeing this mentioned in your newsletter. I have been using Flash Earth instead of Google Earth lately. The big plus is that there isn't a large download. Of course, it doesn't have some of the features of Google Earth, like saving locations. But it seems to be a good alternative to Google Earth if downloading and installing programs is an issue." - Rick Ingram. Nice find Rick, by keeping the maps on the server and only transmitting the screen images, they certainly save a lot of bandwidth. Another nice feature is the option of using Yahoo! Maps, Microsoft, Ask or even NASA Terra images.
http://www.flashearth.com/

4.9 Make Free Internet Phone Calls Using Dial-up Lines
VoIP systems like Skype work great over broadband connections but the voice quality can be terrible over dial-up lines. CQPhone [1] is a system that claims to work with excellent voice quality over low speed lines. I've known about this product for a while and must admit to not believing the advertising but after receiving nearly half a dozen letters from subscribers telling me how happy they are with the system, I figure it must be worth trying. Jonathan Brown's comment is typical: "Gizmo, I expect you know about CQPhone if not, it's absolutely fantastic. It's simple to use and has a friendly interface. The biggest benefit to me is the fact that I am cursed with dial-up and using Win98SE but the quality of voice received over CQPhone is unbeatable. I can't recommend it highly enough." I'm yet to test it myself but please let me know what you think.
[1] http://www.cqphone.com/


5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Add Notes to Your Files and Folders

The average PC contains so many files it's pretty easy to forget what a particular file contains or what it does. Most users try and get around this by using descriptive file names. So rather than call a file something like "list.doc" they might call it "thanksgiving acceptances 2007.doc"

In principle this should work pretty well as Windows will accept file names up to 255 characters in length. However in practice, lists of very long file names are difficult to quickly scan and are often truncated by Windows Explorer. And there are other problems. The maximum file name length in the Joliet system commonly used to burn CDs is 128 characters. Worse still, the maximum Joliet path length (including file name) is only 160 characters. This means that many really long file names will be lost when you burn your data to CD.

But there is another way of documenting files using an inbuilt but little-used Windows feature.
This involves the use of the "Comments" field. It's an attribute of all files and folders in Windows just like name, size and date created. Most users don't know about this field as the Comments field is by default not displayed in Windows Explorer in XP.

Turning it on is easy. Open any folder in Windows Explorer and right click on a blank space in the field title bar. That's the grayed out area that says "Name Size Type" etc. When you right click you will see a list of fields displayed with some checked. To display the Comments field, simply check that field. Once checked you now see that field on the right hand side of your Explorer window, though you may have to scroll to the right to see it.

The Comments field will be blank, as we haven't added any comments. I'll get to that later but first we have to tell Windows to now add the Comments field to every window. To do that select Tools / Folder options / View from the window where you just added the Comments field. Then press the "Apply to all folders" button. NOTE: If you have customized folder views for different folders you may want to skip this step as it will give all your folders the same view.

Now here's how you add comments: Just right click a file, select "Properties" then click the "Summary" tab. You can then enter your comments directly in the Comments box at the bottom of the Windows. Whatever you enter will then be displayed in the Comments field in Windows Explorer.

Neat eh? But here are a few additional tips that make the comments field even more useful:

When searching for a particular file you have commented, remember, you can sort on the Comments field in Internet Explorer by clicking on the title, just like any other field. Sorting will group all your annotated files together, which makes them easier to scan when looking for a particular file. Sorted comments are also in alphabetical order, so try to annotate systematically using meaningful keywords at the start of your comments.

Many desktop search programs index the Comments field. That makes searching your comments even easier.

Finally, you can comment your files even more quickly by using the free HobComment Explorer Extension utility that makes the Comments field available directly off the context menu when you right click a file. You can get HobComment from here:

http://www.dr-hoiby.com/CommentExt/index.php (14KB)
http://www.dr-hoiby.com/CommentExtXP/ (12KB) <= XP users may need this as well


6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 A Free Utility That Stops Programs From Hogging Your PC

It was driving me mad. My laptop would sporadically run at 100% CPU utilization and lock up. It defied all attempts at analysis as the PC was seized and I couldn't do anything. Only a hard reboot was possible, but on rebooting the problem was gone.

Eventually I solved it with a superb little utility called Process Tamer, written by "Mouser" over at Donation Coder. Process Tamer is a monitor that watches the CPU utilization of all running processes. Once the usage of a single process gets above a certain level (by default 70%) Process Tamer reduces the usage by lowering the process priority.

It's a simple idea and Process Tamer implements it immaculately. With Process Tamer installed, the next time the problem occurred on my laptop it didn't totally lock up but rather just ran very slowly. This allowed me to do a quick diagnosis. The problem turned out to be simple but non-obvious. Two programs, Diskeeper and X1, had been accidentally scheduled to start at the same time and were getting into an embrace of death. It was unexpected, as these two normally peacefully co-exist. Simply re-scheduling the programs to start at different times solved the problem.

I couldn't have solved the problem as easily without Process Tamer. However Process Tamer has much broader application than just this kind of problem.

It's a great tool for preventing any one program from hogging your processor. Every user has experienced the situation where their PC has been slowed down to the point of being unusable, by a background program such as a desktop search program, that starts and takes all the resources. Process Tamer will stop that from ever happening again.

For the same reason it can also help speed up your Windows Startup. Make sure though, that you enable Process Tamer to start automatically with Windows. By default it does not, but it's easily changed from within the program's options.

Yet another use for Process Tamer is intra-server load balancing. It's near ideal for this task.
If you actually want a program to able to use all available resources, such as a digital editing program, you can set the program to be excluded from Process Tamer's watchful eye.

I was so impressed with Process Tamer that I've permanently installed it on my laptop. It takes only around 6MB of memory space and its own CPU usage is so low I could barely measure it.

Process Tamer is available for free from the Donation Coder site. They use a novel licensing system: you have to register to get a free license key which allows you to download any number of programs on the site. This key lasts six months after which you must return to the site to download another free license key. After a year you are given a permanent license. Alternatively, you can make a once-up donation of any size and get a permanent key straight away. It's a clever and ethical way to encourage users to recognize the work done by freeware authors and I support it fully. I donated generously and I hope you do too.
Donationware, Windows 2K, XP, 2.23MB

http://www.donationcoder.com/Software/Mouser/proctamer/index.html

** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **

6.2 How to Tell Whether Your Hard Drive is about to Fail

An unexpected hard drive failure is one of the worst things that can happen to your PC. You may not only lose your disk drive, but permanently lose all the data on the drive. For many users this can be totally disastrous.

Some hard drive crashes are random but most are predictable. That's because almost all modern drives implement a monitoring technology called S.M.A.R.T (Self Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) that continuously passes readings on the hard drive condition to the computer's BIOS. Up to 30 drive parameters can be monitored by SMART including read and write error rates, seek error rate, spin up time, temperature and more.

To analyze this mass of data you need a special hard disk health monitoring program. Such programs can give you valuable advance warning that your hard drive is about to fail. This should give you time to backup your critical data and start looking for a replacement drive.
Most of these monitoring programs are commercial products with some selling for up to $199, however there are several capable free programs available.

PassMark DiskCheckup [1] is a commercial product but is free for personal use. One of its strong points is the ability to monitor changes in each SMART parameter over time and use this to predict the TEC (Threshold Exceed Condition). That is, the time when the parameter being measured will drop to below the acceptable level. As well as predicting a future failure date DiskCheckup can also alert the user via popup or email when this has actually occurred.

It all sounds very nice but such predictions are quite fuzzy, so they are at best a guide. Also, predictions can only be made if a trend is measured. Most drives have no such orderly trend. That's why DiskCheckup almost always indicates "N.A" for the TEC. Besides, to measure a trend the product needs to be always running and not all users want that.

There is another reservation: it doesn't recognize USB drives. To my knowledge SMART analysis is not available for USB drives but DiskCheckup doesn't even recognize your USB drives.
HDD Health [2] is another utility that is worth looking at. It has the immediate advantage of being pure freeware and it does recognize USB drives, though as noted, it cannot provide SMART analysis for such drives.

It takes a simpler and probably more meaningful approach to predicting drive failure. It doesn't focus on predicting a failure date, but instead warns you when individual parameters are deteriorating. I quite like it, a case of how sometimes less is more.

There is an Open Source Project called "S.M.A.R.T. Monitoring Tools" [3] that offers two programs to control and monitor storage systems using SMART. This was originally a Linux project but there is a Windows version. This one is really for sysadmins, not end-users.

A final possibility is HD Tune [4]. Like the other two utilities it reads SMART parameters and gives you a report on your drive health. However it is designed to give a snapshot report rather than act as a monitor. HD Tune does a lot more than report your hard drive health: it also benchmarks your hard drive performance. The way it does this is quite neat. It scans your disk, then reports random access time and data transfer rates across your whole drive; that is from the outermost to innermost cylinders. It will also scan your drive for sector errors and report drive temperature as well. It may not be the slickest hard drive health monitor but it is a very capable general hard disk utility to have in your toolkit.

If you want to continuously monitor your disk drive condition "HDD Health" would be my top recommendation. Many users however, would be happy with spot checks. For that application HD Tune should be considered. It will do the job perfectly well and you'll get a competent drive benchmarking utility as well.

[1] http://www.passmark.com/products/diskcheckup.htm Free for personal use, Windows 98-XP, 404KB
[2] http://www.panterasoft.com/ Freeware, Windows 95-XP, 901KB
[3] http://sourceforge.net/projects/smartmontools/
[3] http://www.hdtune.com/ Freeware, Windows 2K-Vista, 626KB

7.0 MANAGE YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

The best way to manage your Premium Edition subscription is from the Supporters' Area of the Support Alert website. There you'll also find all individual back issues, a downloadable back issue archive, an extensive FAQ plus a growing list of resources exclusively available to Supporters.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/supporters/private.htm

The Supporters' Area is protected. To log-in, use the security information sent to you when you first subscribed or as notified subsequently.

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Enter your email address. No password is needed. You can then cancel your free subscription.

Note that the free and paid editions are totally different publications so you can unsubscribe to the free edition without any chance of impacting your paid subscription.

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.freetechmail.org/infobase.asp?TPubId=79

Thanks to subscriber Neal Dwire for proofreading this issue at short notice.

You 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 TechSupportAlert.com, 2007

See you next issue. Next month's issue will be published a week later than normal on the 24th of May as I'll be taking a break. I will be out of email contact from roughly April 20 - April 30. All email will be answered when I return.

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com