Gizmo Richards' Support Alert Newsletter

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

 Free Edition
Issue
140, 14th December, 2006

If you prefer, you can read this issue online at http://techsupportalert.com/issues/al_current.htm

IN THIS FREE ISSUE:

0. EDITORIAL - End of year reflections

1. SUPPORT ALERT AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE FOR 2006
1.1 Product of the Year
1.2 Best Free Utility

Recommended Free Computer Performance Scan  (sponsored link)

2. BEST TECH SITES AND RESOURCES FOR 2006
2.1 Christmas Gift Ideas
2.2 Outstanding Video How-To Sites
2.3 Convert MS Word and Excel Documents to PDF
2.4 Where to Find Good Computer Deals
2.5 Free Utility Converts Video Files for Use on Your iPod
2.6 Use Instant Messaging Without an IM Client
2.7 Help for Windows 98 Users
2.8 Free File Conversion Site
2.9 One Thousand Free Icons, Free Favicon Service
2.10 Get Back Lost XP Passwords
2.11 Lots of Stock Photos for Zip
2.12 How to Improve the Quality of Your Digital Prints
2.13 A New Way to Save Web Pages
2.14 How to Take Great Digital Photos in Poor Light
2.15 Ultimate List of Free Windows Software from Microsoft
2.16 More Free Software from Microsoft
2.17 Identify Unknown Programs from Their File Name
2.18 Free Wake up Calls

** Additional items in the Premium SE Edition **

2.19 How to Unlock Your Nokia Cell Phone
2.20 Common Computer Questions Answered
2.21 A Cheaper Way to Buy Online
2.22 The Cheapest Way to Buy Books
2.23 Free Mac Applications
2.24 Free Multi-Format Document Viewer
2.25 Real Help for Windows 98 Users
2.26 Free MS Excel Resources
2.27 How to Send Large Email Files from Your Own PC
2.28 The Dangers of Public Proxy Servers
2.29 Free Online Storage Services
2.30 Free Computer Books
2.31 Free Tech Cheat Sheets
2.32 Twenty Ways to Secure Your Apache Server
2.33 How to Make the Best Quality MP3s
3. BEST FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES FOR 2006
3.1 Free Goodies for Excel Users
3.2 Free Utility Fixes PC Problems
3.3 Free Programs That Run From Your USB Flash Drive
3.4 Firefox Extension Offers Selective Privacy
3.5 How to Print Lots of Documents Easily
3.6 Display Outlook Calendar and Folder Tasks on Desktop
3.7 Free Utility for Project Task List Management
3.8 How to Keep Connected to the Internet
3.9 Get Vista "Guided Help" Functionality in XP
3.10 More Vista Functionality for XP
3.11 Add Process Information to Windows Task Manager
3.12 Free Network Inventory Management Tool
3.13 Recover Information from Damaged Data CDs
3.14 The Best Program Launcher

** Additional items in the Premium SE Edition **

3.15 Free PIM Impresses
3.16 Free Internet Traffic Monitor
3.17 The Best Free Software Cataloging Utility
3.18 Excellent Free Font Manager
3.19 Free Utility Checks Web Site for Broken Links
3.20 How to Decrypt Protected iTunes Songs
3.21 Best Free Outlook Express Backup Utility
3.22 Slick Reminder Program Impresses
3.23 Free Utility Keeps Track of Project Hours Worked
3.24 Free Programs to Test Your PC's Security
4.0 MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

0. EDITORIAL

This is the special end of year edition of Support Alert.

It features my annual awards for the "Product of the Year" and the "Best Free Utility."

It also includes my pick of the best tech sites and utilities that have appeared in the newsletter throughout the year.

I'm not making any claims about any of these being the absolute best in their class. I haven't reviewed all the sites and products available and besides, there is always an element of the subjective in such matters. What I can say is that the sites and products listed are superb by any standards. Congratulations to all involved.

I'd like to give particular thanks to the Web's freeware authors. They, in the true spirit of the internet, do what they do simply for the pleasure of their craft and the pleasure of sharing. We are the beneficiaries.

This free edition of Support Alert currently has over 120,000 subscribers in 116 different countries. To all of you, I wish peace, happiness and prosperity for 2007.

See you next month.

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com

P.S. In producing this newsletter during the year I have willingly and with pleasure given you hundreds of hours of my time. May I ask for a few seconds of yours in return?

Support Alert relies on voluntary donations to survive. If you feel that you've benefited from reading this newsletter during the year perhaps you might consider donating by subscribing to the premium "Supporters' Edition" of this newsletter.

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

In fact, now is a GREAT time to subscribe as I'm offering a Christmas bonus. This month I'm giving away a free commercial software product to every fifth person who subscribes, while stocks last. I've got quite a pile here to give away so your chances of scoring a copy are excellent. Here's what's on offer:

Subscribe this month and have a 20% chance of winning one of the following:

- 3 copies of WebRoot SpySweeper V4.5 (Retail $29.95)

- 2 Copies of Perfect Disk V8 defragger (Retail $39.99)

- 6 copies of NOD32 (Retail $39.00)

I use all of these outstanding products myself and consider them as best in their class.

It's first-in, first served so subscribe now because once these products are gone, that's it.

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

Even if you don't win a prize you'll still get my special report "Gizmo's Desert Island Utilities" which outlines the software I consider most useful, including many free products. You'll also get the benefit of a 12-months subscription to the special enhanced Premium SE edition of this newsletter which contains almost twice the number of great tech sites and free utilities as the standard edition.  

Use the link below to subscribe now:

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

1. SUPPORT ALERT AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE 2006

1.1 Product of the Year

Joint Winners: SandBoxie and DefenseWall

2006 should have been called "The Year of the 0-day Threat."

0-day threats are security problems involving brand new exploits. Typically these include new virus threats or exploits of previously unknown flaws in computer products.

Normal security products like anti-virus and anti-spyware scanners provide only limited protection against such threats. Your AV program can't fully protect you against a new virus that's not yet in its signature database nor can your anti-spyware program prevent you from being infected by a previously unknown flaw in a product like Microsoft Office.

Unfortunately these threats have recently escalated to unprecedented levels. Hostile web sites that use 0-day threats to secretly infect your PC have proliferated rapidly while new email threats have arisen that only require you to open an HTML email to get infected.

Although the overall level of such threats has increased they are not yet common. Users who surf widely and use P2P networks are currently most at risk. However if the problem continues to escalate, 0-day threats will pose a serious threat to all users in the near future.

In this context it is appropriate that my award for the product of the year for 2006 should go to a security product that protects your PC against 0-day threats.

Well, two computer security products. The two winning products are both so good that I really couldn't choose one over the other.

SandBoxie and DefenseWall are both sandboxing programs designed to isolate your PC from internet based threats. Unlike anti- virus programs that rely on signatures to detect threats they protect your PC by fencing off and isolating potentially dangerous programs so they can't infect your PC. They don't replace your AV program but rather are designed to provide an additional layer of protection.

SandBoxie and DefenseWall have a lot of similarities but they operate quite differently.

SandBoxie works by allowing you to run your web browser, email program and any other program of your choosing in a virtual environment that's totally corralled off from your real PC. Any malware programs that are downloaded through your browser or email can run in this virtual environment without infecting your real PC. When you have finished you can shut down the sandbox and all the infected programs will be erased without ever getting onto your real PC.

DefenseWall offers a similar capability but with a twist. While SandBoxie requires the user to consciously decide what programs to sandbox, DefenseWall automatically sandboxes your browser, email program, instant messaging, FTP utility and any other program it considers a potential vehicle for introducing infection onto your computer.

It does this using an inbuilt list of "untrusted" programs. This list includes Internet Explorer and all the common browsers plus email clients and lots of other utilities as well. You can also manually add programs to this list.

Any program or process that is started by an untrusted program inherits the untrusted (i.e. sandboxed) status. So if you visit a hostile website in your browser, any malicious programs that run secretly are automatically sandboxed as they inherit the untrusted status of the browser.

This policy based approach used by DefenseWall brings about distinct differences in use compared to SandBoxie.

With DefenseWall, your browser is automatically sandboxed every time you run it unless you choose to run it unsandboxed. With SandBoxie your browser by default is only sandboxed if you choose to start it sandboxed. This behavior can be changed in the registered version but it needs to be specifically configured to do so. It's not an option in the free version.

This is a critical difference, particularly when the PC is being operated by less experienced users.

There is another important difference. SandBoxie corrals off all downloaded and changed files into a special area of your disk: the sandbox. These files are not easily accessible unless you go hunting around in the sandbox and choose to move them to the normal working areas of your disk

In contrast DefenseWall downloads files to the normal locations on your PC. That's because DefenseWall is not seeking to control infection by physical isolation but rather by preventing malware programs from running.

Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses.

SandBoxie can be annoying when you download a legitimate file and then have to go hunting for it. This is an inconvenience but can be tolerated. The situation with email files is much more serious. Keeping all your email files in the sandbox is so awkward that it verges on the impracticable.

On the other hand it's comforting with SandBoxie to be able to clear the sandbox and know everything you downloaded is gone. And that comfort extends to privacy as well as security.

DefenseWall doesn't interfere with the normal location of your downloaded files or email and that's a real convenience. However if any of these downloaded files are infected they could pose a risk in the event you ever accidentally run them.

I say "accidentally" because DefenseWall allows you to run downloaded files quite safely by selecting the "run as untrusted" option from the mouse right click context menu. In this case they are completely sandboxed and your PC cannot become infected. However if you didn't use this option and absent-mindedly double click an infected download, then you could get infected.

On balance DefenseWall may be better suited to average users as its policy based approach requires less user intervention. On the other hand, more experienced users may prefer Sandboxie as it leaves the decision making firmly in their hands.

Despite the differences in operation, both products offer outstanding protection. Both are totally resistant to termination by a hostile agent. Both provide near perfect isolation of malware programs including 0-day threats. Both are small and efficient and will hardly use any of your computer resources.

Anyone who surfs widely on the internet or uses P2P networks should consider using one of these products. Should 0-day threats continue to escalate in 2007 as they have in 2006, we may all need them.

I congratulate the program authors, Ronen Tzur and Ilya Rabinovich on their achievements.

http://www.sandboxie.com/ Donationware, Windows 2000 and later, 242KB

http://www.softsphere.com/ Shareware, $29, 30 day trial, Windows 2000 and later, 1.02MB

Note: I recommend backing up your PC before installing any sandboxing product including the two above.

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1.2 Best Free Utility for 2006

Winner: TorPark

TorPark is a special version of the Firefox browser that has been configured to work with the free Tor anonymizing service and run directly from a USB flash drive. It's a neat idea; just plug in your USB stick to any PC with a USB port and Firefox V1.5.0.7 is automatically launched, set up for secure and private surfing.

The most obvious application is internet cafes, public terminals or indeed any PC including your own where you don't want to leave any trace of your private surfing activities. However, what attracts me is not so much the privacy side as the security potential. That's because TorPark creates a secure encrypted connection between the PC you are using and the Tor servers. This allows you to safely transmit information without fear of interception. This makes it ideal for surfing on open Wi-Fi networks. Previously, secure surfing on such networks required the use of private VPN networks, an option only available to corporates??, the well heeled and the technically savvy. Now, using TorPark, any surfer can reap the same security benefits for their browsing.

It won't help the security of your email though. And there are other security limitations too. For example, don't think TorPark will now mean you can now securely conduct your internet banking at an internet cafe. I'm sorry, it's still a no-no. That's because, if a keylogger is installed on the PC you are using, it will grab your confidential data before it gets encrypted.

Similarly, don't think TorPark can provide you with total anonymity; last month the German police seized a whole batch of Tor servers. And there are other caveats. Expect your surfing to slow down as it's relayed across multiple Tor surfers. The slowdown may be small or intolerable; it all depends on how heavily the network is loaded. Expect, too, that some web sites won't work correctly, either because they don't allow anonymous surfing or because they use features that won't work in the Tor environment. Happily, this inconvenience can be minimized as TorPark allows you to easily switch between Tor based browsing and normal browsing. You will, of course, loose your anonymity in the process but at least the site will now work.

These reservations aside, TorPark is a terrific product. All users of open Wi-Fi networks and public computers should use it as a matter of course while many other users will see immediate application in their own environment. I've set it up on a spare USB stick and on my hard drive as well. I suggest you do, too.

http://torpark.nfshost.com/index.php Freeware, Windows NT and later, 9.02MB


2. BEST TECH SITES AND RESOURCES FOR 2006
2.1 Christmas Gift Ideas

If you enjoy your Support Alert subscription why not share the good news and send a friend a gift subscription to the Premium SE Edition? At $10 it's an economical Christmas gift and one the receiver will thank you for every time they receive a monthly issue. You can set up your gift subscription here [1]  in a couple of minutes. And here's another Christmas idea. Subscriber Amber Carvan operates a non-commercial children's craft site that is currently featuring a guide [2] showing how your kids can make their own hand-made Christmas cards using simple household materials. She also has another guide [3] for Christmas ornaments that young children can make all by themselves. It's creative, fun and free.
[1] http://www.techsupportalert.com/gift-subscription.htm
[2] http://www.kidscraftweekly.com/christmas_cards.html
[3] http://www.kidscraftweekly.com/christmas_ornaments.html

2.2 Outstanding Video How-To Sites

Want to copy one of your DVDs or strip the sound track to a CD? Need to join several video files? Like to convert from one video format to another? These sites show you how to do all these things and more using free software.
http://www.doom9.org/index.html?/search
http://www.videohelp.com/

2.3 Convert MS Word and Excel Documents to PDF

You can pay $49 for a utility to do this or go to this web site where they will do it will do it for free. They also can convert HTML pages to PDF as well.
http://www.expresspdf.com/

2.4 Where to Find Good Computer Deals

Regular contributor JW writes, "Gizmo, in the last issue you mentioned the good deals at BitsDuJour [1] and FreeAfterRebate [2]. Here are a few additional shopping sites [3]-[5] that I've found from experience also offer good deals."
[1] http://www.bitsdujour.com/
[2] http://www.freeafterrebate.info/
[3] http://www.weeklycloseouts.com/page/en/home.aspx
[4] http://www.antirebate.com/
[5] http://www.ableshoppers.com/

2.5 Free Utility Converts Video Files for Use on Your iPod

The Jodix "Free iPod Video Converter" converts DVD/VCD, AVI, MPEG, WMV, RM, RMVB, DivX, ASF, VOB video files to iPod video format with a few clicks. It's just an easy-to-use interface tacked on to some stock converters, but that doesn't detract from the usefulness of the product. Freeware, All Windows versions, 1.69MB.
http://www.ipod-video-converter.org/
http://www.snapfiles.com/get/jodixipodvideo.html <= alternate site

2.6 Use Instant Messaging Without an IM Client

I hardly use IM at all and don't even have an IM client installed on my PC. On the very rare occasions I do need to send a message, I use a free web service from meebo.com [1]. They support a wide range of systems including Yahoo, Messenger, Jabber, AIM, ICQ, MS and more. It also comes in handy for IM users trying to contact friends on incompatible networks.
http://www18.meebo.com

2.7 Help for Windows 98 Users

Just because Microsoft has abandoned its support for Windows 98, it doesn't mean everyone has to. This classic Windows 98 site is still being updated and is a mandatory visit for all Win98 users. The resources offered are quite amazing, including a downloadable unofficial Windows 98 Service Pack 2, a tutorial teaching how to incorporate ME enhancements into Win98 and much more. The site layout will give you eye strain but that's a small price to pay for the great tips and utilities.
http://www.mdgx.com/

2.8 Free File Conversion Site

Subscriber Charles G Koenig writes, "Gizmo I found this file conversion site and it's a winner. You should take a look." Well I did Charles and it is very good. It handles five image formats, 14 document formats, 11 video and nine audio. Just point to a file on your PC, select the output format and the file is uploaded to the Zamar server. Then you get an email with a link to the converted document. It's free but do read the terms of service. There's nothing threatening in it but you should be aware of such things before uploading any of your files to a third party site.
http://www.zamzar.com/

2.9 One Thousand Free Icons, Free Favicon Service

This is quite special; a free set of 1000 beautiful 16 by 16 icons. Every programmer and web developer should grab these little gems now [1]. Good too, for webmasters looking for favicons for their site. If you want to create your own favicon, try the second link [2]. I used this service to create the "46" favicon now used at techsupportalert.com
[1] http://www.famfamfam.com/
[2] http://www.htmlkit.com/services/favicon/

2.10 Get Back Lost XP Passwords

Most techies know the trick of using a Windows 2000 installation CD to get access to a password locked XP PC [1] but here's a way of doing it using an XP installation CD [2]. What's more, you can even change the password! On the same page you'll also find instructions how to make a password reset disk that allows you to easily recover your XP password should you forget it.
[1] http://www.windowssecrets.com/comp/030213/
[2] http://pubs.logicalexpressions.com/pub0009/LPMArticle.asp?ID=305

2.11 Lots of Stock Photos for Zip

The site claims two hundred and seventy thousand, which should provide everything you could ever want except of course, the one you really need ;>)
http://tinyurl.com/kghyf  (everystockphoto.com)

2.12 How to Improve the Quality of Your Digital Prints

One of the keys to high quality digital image processing is to have your monitor properly calibrated. At this site they explain what's involved and give you a detailed guide how to do it. You'll find lots of other digital tips on this site including a good tutorial on color calibrating your printer. Thanks to subscriber Tony Bennett for letting me know about this site.
http://www.normankoren.com/makingfineprints1A.html

2.13 A New Way to Save Web Pages

Ever been browsing at work and found a site you'd like to check out when you get home? Toread.cc is a free web service that takes a snap of the web page and emails it to any address you nominate.
http://toread.cc/

2.14 How to Take Great Digital Photos in Poor Light

We've all tried to take photos in situations with difficult lighting; too much, too little or worst of all, both. However, there is a clever way of getting around this called High Dynamic Range Photography (HDR) that involves melding together several shots using a digital editor. I tried it and it works wonderfully. Full details here:
http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/high-dynamic-range.htm

2.15 Ultimate List of Free Windows Software from Microsoft

Over 150 freebies including many I'd never heard of. Many thanks to Art Flores for the link.
http://bhandler.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!70F64BC910C9F7F3!1231.entry

2.16 More Free Software from Microsoft

In the item above you'll find a link to the "Ultimate List of Free Software from Microsoft." Subscriber Wayne Paterson has written in to let me know the same author has now compiled a new list of Microsoft freebies specifically for MS Office.
http://bhandler.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!70F64BC910C9F7F3!1344.entry

2.17 Identify Unknown Programs from Their File Name

It's often hard to work out the name of an application just from the file name, but it's easy with the help of this site. Just enter the file name and you can discover the product name, publisher, original publication date and more. Well worth bookmarking. Thanks to regular contributor Rhiannon Dent for the suggestion.
http://fileadvisor.bit9.com/services/search.aspx

2.18 Free Wake up Calls

Subscriber Adeniji Akintobi writes, "Gizmo, I wanted to bring a website to your attention. It's similar to the "Oh Don't Forget" website you recommended in a previous issue except you get phone calls instead of text messages. You can order wake up calls or reminder calls for free." Thanks for that Adeniji, nice site. I note though, the service is currently only available for the USA.
http://www.telepixie.com

** Additional items featured in the Premium SE Edition **

2.19 How to Unlock Your Nokia Cell Phone

2.20 Common Computer Questions Answered

2.21 A Cheaper Way to Buy Online

2.22 The Cheapest Way to Buy Books

2.23 Free Mac Applications

2.24 Free Multi-Format Document Viewer

2.25 Real Help for Windows 98 Users

2.26 Free MS Excel Resources

2.27 How to Send Large Email Files from Your Own PC

2.28 The Dangers of Public Proxy Servers

2.29 Free Online Storage Services

2.30 Free Computer Books

2.31 Free Tech Cheat Sheets

2.32 Twenty Ways to Secure Your Apache Server

2.33 How to Make the Best Quality MP3s

 

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http://www.anti-trojan-software-reviews.com

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3. BEST FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES FOR 2006

Many of the best free utilities I've discovered during the year have been added to the "46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities" page on my web site so I haven't listed them again here. Do, however, check out the web site; you'll find some real gems there.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm
http://www.techsupportalert.com/more/extended.htm

3.1 Free Goodies for Excel Users

Subscriber Mark Kealiher writes "Giz, I've found a utility that may save some of your readers a lot of time when using MS Excel. I work with many text files that I import into Excel for editing reasons. Often I find myself needing to combine columns, find and delete duplicates, etc. I haven't had the time yet to learn complex formulas and macros and don't want to. The free Excel add-in tool at this website [1] automates a lot of the operations I need." Nice find Mark. I note that its functionality extends well beyond text manipulation and includes worksheet comparison, unit conversion and more. I think most serious Excel users would find something of value here. You should also check out the ASAP [2] utilities I mentioned in issue #121. This freebie provides over 300 individual functions and enhancements for Excel.
[1] http://www.excel-extools.com Freeware, Excel 97-2003, 609KB
[2] http://www.asap-utilities.com/ Freeware, Excel 97-2003, 1.1MB.

3.2 Free Utility Fixes PC Problems

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

3.3 Free Programs That Run From Your USB Flash Drive

Nice list from SnapFiles [1] including quite a few five star rated utilities. If you want more, try the other three links [2]- [4].
[1] http://www.snapfiles.com/features/ed_usb_software.html
[2] http://portableapps.com/
[3] http://www.portablefreeware.com/
[4] http://nedwolf.com/Freeware-Portable.htm

3.4 Free Firefox Extension Offers Selective Privacy

Firefox allows users to easily clear their internet history, cache, cookies and other internet tracks. Sometimes users don't want to clear everything but rather just the information for a particular browsing session. You can do this using the free Stealther extension. Once installed, just turn on Stealther from the Tools menu before the session and afterwards turn it off. Nothing will be recorded in the interim. Freeware, Firefox 1.0 - 2.0, 12KB.
https://addons.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?id=1306

3.5 How to Print Lots of Documents Easily

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

3.6 Display Outlook Calendar and Folder Tasks on Desktop

Desktask is a free utility that extracts your calendar and to-do information from Outlook and displays it on your desktop where it's easy to see. The partly transparent display is very attractively done and covers information for the coming week. DeskTask doesn't require Outlook to be running. Highly recommended. While at the site check out another of their free products called Find Favorites, a neat little favorites search engine. Freeware, Outlook 2000 and later, 446KB
http://www.carthagosoft.net/desktask.htm

3.7 Free Utility for Project Task List Management

Here's a program geared towards folks who work on multiple projects at one time where each project has multiple sub-tasks requiring completion in a particular sequence. Its name, "ToDoList," may be plain vanilla but the program sure isn't; it can do pretty well anything with task lists you could want. Sure, there are no fancy calendar displays or Gantt charts but this is a task list manager not a project manager. While it may not have the features of a project management utility, it is, however, much more than a to-do list program; it's so capable it could be used to help manage quite large projects. I recommend everyone involved in project work to check out "ToDoList." It could be just what you are looking for. Thanks to subscriber Robin Brandt for letting me know about this utility. Note: registration is required to download the program. Freeware, 435KB.
http://www.codeproject.com/tools/todolist2.asp

3.8 How to Keep Connected to the Internet

Subscriber Chris Mar writes "Gizmo, I'm among a huge number of disappointed Internet users who keep losing internet connectivity. It seems that this may be a function of the ISP as well as other unnecessarily complex or redundant security measures in the Administrative Services. Normally to resolve this I have to use the Network Connection Repair tool to re- establish the seemingly broken link but recently I ran across an excellent app called Connection Keeper by Greg Wittmeyer, CEO of Gammadyne Corporation [1]. It is a free download and has solved my connection problems. What a joy; no more endless cycles with the Repair tool or getting stuck after I get up to stretch my legs to come back to find the little Network Connection icons lifelessly staring into blank space." Thanks for that, Chris. You are quite right; internet disconnection problems are very common. However the causes are many and range from simple ISP based inactivity timeouts and line noise problems right through to complex TCP stack issues. Using Connection Keeper is an excellent first line of attack. It keeps connections alive by regularly communicating with your ISP even during periods of sustained inactivity. It won't solve all disconnection problems but many users will find it provides a simple free solution. Freeware, all Windows versions, 2.56MB.
[1] http://www.gammadyne.com

3.9 Get Vista "Guided Help" Functionality in XP

Regular contributor A.K. writes " Gizmo, IMHO the most useful and unique feature of Vista is "Guided Help," a system that either solves problems automatically or guides users to a solution through a graphical interface wizard. Now, it appears, some of that Guided Help functionality is available for XP [1]. For example I just downloaded a Guided Help exe file [2] that covers the situation where XP fails to start correctly because of a corrupted Registry or missing system file and have installed it on a my flash drive for use when I next encounter this situation." A.K. is quite right, Guided Help is a big step forward in problem resolution and it's good to see that this Vista technology is being applied to XP. The number of XP Guided Help facilitated guides currently available is not huge but still very useful - you can see a full list here [3]. Check them out and add them to your tech toolkit.
[1] http://support.microsoft.com/kb/915092
[2] http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;307545
[3] http://tinyurl.com/lam5b (support.microsoft.com)

3.10 More Vista Functionality for XP

The new Aero Glass interface in Vista is certainly impressive though you'll need a high end graphics card in order to get the full impact. Subscriber Chris Price recently wrote in to tell me about the Vista Transformation Pack, "... an integrated set of utilities that will modify Windows XP to look and feel very much like Windows Vista" without the need for fancy hardware. According to the vendor "the pack changes most of the system icons, skins and toolbars and also adds new enhancements to your desktop such as a dock bar or a different system tray clock." Now I'm not normally into the whole themes and appearance thing but must admit I was quietly impressed by the Vista Transformation Pack. It's got quite a few minor bugs but many users will tolerate these for the invigorating effect on their desktop. As ever, backup your system before installing. Freeware, Windows XP, 12.1MB
http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/OS-Enhancements/Vista-Transformation-Pack.shtml

3.11 Add Process Information to Windows Task Manager

Most users know that they can find out what programs are currently running on their PC by hitting Ctrl+Alt+Del and bringing up the Windows Task Manager. That's the simple bit; making sense of the processes listed can be tough going. The utility company Uniblue has just released a free program called Quick Access Infobar [1] that allows users to click on any process shown in the Windows Task Manager and get an explanation of what that process actually does, along with an assessment of its security status. The information is displayed in your browser using data from Uniblue's online Process Library Database. I tried it out and it works well. The information provided is clear and useful, though the online database has quite a few plugs for Uniblue's products. Also a number of processes related to some of the obscure utilities I use on my PC were not listed in the database. You can of course also access the Uniblue Process Library without installing Quick Access Infobar by simply surfing to the Uniblue site [2] or similar sites [3] and looking up the process. Still, many average users will appreciate the convenience of a single click lookup provided by Quick Access. Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 316KB.
[1] http://www.processlibrary.com/quickaccess/
[2] http://www.processlibrary.com/
[3] http://www.neuber.com/taskmanager/process/index.html

3.12 Free Network Inventory Management Tool

This is really nice. Spiceworks is a browser based inventory program that allows LAN managers to quickly discover and document the hardware, software and patch status of their network PCs. That rather bland description seriously under-sells the usefulness of this product. It's got a terrific filter system that allows you to target your inventory request plus a highly customizable reporting system. On top of that it has a great interface, is easy to use, can handle Linux and Mac OS X workstations and uses standard network protocols.
In short, it's just the tool that managers of small to medium size networks have been looking for. At the moment it's a free beta so go grab it while you can. Note: The program requires XP Pro with 512MB RAM on the administrator's PC. Free beta, 8.7MB.
http://www.spiceworks.com/

3.13 Recover Information from Damaged Data CDs

One of the worst PC experiences is to find your precious backup CDs or DVDs are unreadable due to scratches or surface degradation. At this site [1] they list three utilities, including two freebies, that will help you recover your vital data. I've previously used one of these programs, ISOBuster [2], and it does a great job with both CDs and DVDs. Don't expect miracles though, like the guy who wrote to me last year who had put a hot fry pan on a precious CD accidentally left on his kitchen counter. I'm sure even ISOBuster couldn't read the molten plastic mass welded to the bottom of the pan. :>)
[1] http://labnol.blogspot.com/2006/09/recover-data-files-from-damaged.html
[2] http://www.isobuster.com/ Donationware, all Windows versions, 2.6MB

3.14 The Best Application Launcher

Launchy solves the fundamental weakness shared by most application launchers; intrusiveness. Unlike other products that use launch bars or tray icons, Launchy is invisible until you hit a special hotkey combination. By default this is Alt- Space.

Hitting the hot key combination brings up a small window into which you type the name of the application you are looking for.

You rarely even have to type the full name; mostly all you need do is just type a couple of letters. Launchy instantly displays on a find-as-you-type basis, any program that matches the letters you typed in.

Its power lies in the fact that it's lightning fast. When I type the letter "E" I instantly see all programs whose name contains the letter E. There are quite a few as you can imagine. If I then type in the second letter "X" the list shortens immediately to only those programs that contain "EX". By the time I type in the "C" the list is down to one program, Excel itself. Hitting Enter then launches the program and at the same time the Launchy window disappears. The whole thing takes less than 2 seconds.

By default Launchy only searches files in your Start Menu folders. You can however, configure it to handle any file types and search any folders. So Launchy could be used to launch web link shortcuts or even your MP3 files. Configuration is easy; just right click on the Launchy Window.

Launchy is a program that's so useful and so easy to use that you'll wonder how you ever worked without it. Try it, you'll love it.

http://www.launchy.net/ Free Open Source, Windows 2000 and later, 643KB.

** Additional items in the Premium SE Edition **

3.15 Free PIM Impresses

3.16 Free Internet Traffic Monitor

3.17 The Best Free Software Cataloging Utility

3.18 Excellent Free Font Manager

3.19 Free Utility Checks Web Site for Broken Links

3.20 How to Decrypt Protected iTunes Songs

3.21 Best Free Outlook Express Backup Utility

3.22 Slick Reminder Program Impresses

3.23 Free Utility Keeps Track of Project Hours Worked

3.24 Free Programs to Test Your PC's Security

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See you next issue

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com