"Your pointer to the very best
Tech information on the Web"
Issue 103 - 18th November, 2003
Support Alert is a registered online serial publication
Quote of the Week
"Keeping your job in tech support today, means knowing how to balance your time. Balancing your time that is, between solving problems and creating them."
- Richard Cohen
If you are a modem user, I've got some really good news for you.
You see, for the last month I've been stuck in a country town looking after a sick relative. That was OK but using my laptop modem with a marginal rural phone line was not.
After a week of trying to get my work done at 28Kbps connection speeds, I was ready to tear my hair out.
So I decided to do something about it.
I spent the next week trying every conceivable way to improve my modem performance.
I tweaked my TCP connections using five different tools.
I tried every so called "accelerator" utility I could get my hand on.
I tried three different subscription-based web acceleration services.
And what were the results of all this?
First up, I discovered snake oil. Lots of it, whole reservoirs. Extravagant product promises with little or no delivery.
There were TCP optimizers that didn't optimize anything, accelerators that slowed your connection down, high performance web services that ran like dogs.
And then there was the adware. Not to mention the secretly installed spyware.
That's the bad news. Now the good news, and it's very good news indeed.
In the end I got my modem going fast. So fast that on normal browsing, I didn't even miss my broadband connection.
Measurements suggested that I was running about three times faster than before optimization. It felt like it too.
Less spectacular was the improvement in download speed. I only improved that by 30%. Still, that's not bad.
So how did I get these improvements?
That story is too long for this column but I've documented it in the form of a guide at the Support Alert web site. In the guide you'll find the techniques that I found effective and the few products that actually worked.
I'm pretty sure that most modem users who follow this guide will get the same speed improvement I achieved.
Let me know what results you get.
You can find the free Internet speedup guide at the following link: http://www.techsupportalert.com/accelerators.htm
PS A message to those who have donated to this site. Starting next month I'm no longer going to ask for donations.
The way this used to work was that you made a $10 donation and by way of a thank you, you got a number of goodies including 12 months subscription to the special SE edition of the newsletter.
Well I've had to change this. From next month I'm not asking for donations. Instead, I'll be offering the SE Edition of this newsletter on a simple $10 annual subscription basis.
I've had to make this minor change because a lot of organizations don't have any delegated authority to make donations but they can take out subscriptions.
It really doesn't change anything but I'm let you know as a courtesy.
LAST ISSUE’S QUIZ: - "What's the best free registry cleaner and why is it the best?"
ANSWER: Here's my pathetic paraphrase of the 3000 word winning answer from Hans Schneider, who apparently is doing a Masters thesis on registry cleaners! "The best registry cleaner is the one that removes erroneous and unnecessary entries from the registry but does not cause problems. Ideally the user should hand-check every registry entry before deletion but generally this is not possible. This means that conservative products will prove in the long run to be best. Of the three available free registry cleaners: RegSeeker, BeClean and EasyClean, the first is slow and very aggressive and the second has known problems with Windows XP. EasyClean though is fast, quite conservative and most likely to be reliable over many applications."
Thanks Hans. You left out another free cleaner RegScrub which is also conservative in the number of entries it removes. However I still agree with your conclusion; Easy Clean is probably the best free registry cleaner. I just wish that the Registry backup and restore operations in Easy Clean were a little clearer to the average user.
This question has generated a lot of email, including many horror stories of PCs being trashed by dud registry cleaners. The whole area really needs a good close look. I'll see if I can get something together for the next issue. Hans has generously offered to help.
THIS ISSUE’S QUIZ: Win a free copy of PestPatrol!
"What's the best way to migrate applications to a new PC without reinstalling the software?"
Send your answer to the address below and win a copy of
mailto:email@example.com. Use the subject line "The
IN THIS ISSUE
1. TOP TECH SITES
- Get Shareware as Freeware
- Speed up Your PC
- Free Phone Calls over the Internet
- Microsoft Guide to Security Patch Management
- Migrating to an Open Source Environment (SE Edition)
- The Best DVD Burner (SE Edition)
- Help with Windows Installer Problems (SE Edition)
- How to Counter RIAA Tactics (SE Edition)
- Google from Anywhere *** Hot Product Alert ***
- Top Virus Cleaner Free for Home Use
- The Fastest Browser?
- Easy Way to Kill the Windows Messenger Service
- Free PDF Creation Tool
- Fetch Browser Links in Background
- Transfer Data Easily to a Remote Server (SE Edition)
- Useful Outlook Add-Ins (SE Edition)
- A Notes Organizer that Really Works (SE Edition)
- Free! Full-Text Search Your Hard Drive Files (SE Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
- Buffer Overrun in FrontPage Server Extensions (813360)
- Vulnerability in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel (831527)
- Buffer Overrun in the Office Workstation Service (828749)
- Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer (824145)
- Office 2003 Update (828041)
- Enhanced OutClass Outlook Spam Filter
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
- Hassle-Free Way to Mirror Your Hard Drive
- Wanted: Shoshkele Blockers
- Learn to Edit the Windows Registry
- Stealth Your Drives
- FTP Error Codes Explained
- Improve Your Google Searches
- How to Get Better Tech Support (SE Edition)
- 50 Ways to Lose Your Data (SE Edition)
- Cheap Way to Get HDTV (SE Edition)
- How to Stop Windows XP Disk Data Corruption (SE Edition)
5. FREEBIE OF THE WEEK
- Free Hotkey Utility
- Free High Performance Remote Control Software (SE Edition)
Items marked "SE Edition" appear only in the special Supporter's
Edition of this newsletter. This edition is reserved exclusively
for those generous individuals who have donated to this site.
1. TOP TECH SITES
Get Shareware as Freeware
Great freeware products often end up as shareware. This site offers downloads of the final freeware versions of many such products. Their list of products is not complete but it's still quite extensive. They also feature some great freeware utilities, like The Proxomitron, that are no longer available from their authors.
Speed Up Your PC
This site offers a good collection of performance enhancing tweaks. I've seen most of them elsewhere but here they are nicely organized with many tweaks available as downloadable .reg files for those timid about patching the Windows Registry.
Free Phone Calls over the Internet
A few issues ago I gave a glowing account of Skype, the free utility that allows you speak to your distant friends over the Internet for nix. Here's a review by ExtremeTech of Skype and competitor, SIPhone.
Microsoft Guide to Security Patch Management
This free, downloadable guide is geared towards helping organizations manage this increasingly burdensome task. Some good information here, I just wish they wouldn't use phrases like “Microsoft takes security threats very seriously, quickly providing guidance and, when necessary, security patches for vulnerabilities."
** Bonus Items for Supporters **
Migrating to an Open Source Environment
If your organization is considering changing to Open Source software, you should read this excellent free report from the European Commission's IDA. It covers in detail the technical and administrative issues involved with many practical examples. Although primarily written from the viewpoint of government instrumentalities, there is much of value to the private sector as well.
The Best DVD Burner
Tom's Hardware has just completed a comprehensive test of 11 DVD burners and shock, horror, the Sony wasn't the best. The winner in fact was a unit by LG, and it was one of the cheapest, too.
Help With Windows Installer Problems
Users often get confused when they download a program and are confronted by an .MSI file rather than the expected .EXE or .ZIP. MSI files are used by the Microsoft Installer and can be double-clicked provided you have the right version of the installer on your PC. Windows XP comes with the latest version but other Windows OSs may have earlier versions or none at all. Answers to everything you need to know about .MSI can be found at this site which has great technical resources plus a very useful FAQ. You can download the latest MS Installer for free from the second link below.
How to Counter RIAA Tactics
At the EFF site you can pick up this free guide titled "How Not to Get Sued by the RIAA for File-Sharing (and Other Ideas to Avoid Being Treated Like a Criminal)."
Got some top sites to suggest? Send them to
Google from Anywhere *** Hot Product Alert ***
Google has just released the beta of DeskBar, a search box located in the taskbar that allows you to perform a Google search from any application. Results come up in a special mini-viewer in a 3/4 screen sized window that overlays whatever application you are currently running. It comes with lots of options and features including the ability to search a thesaurus or look up definitions. A really neat feature is that you can select any text in your application and search that text by hitting Ctrl-Alt-G. The only downside is yet more demands on your taskbar real estate. Everyone should try this one, even Dave's Search Bar users. (413KB)
Top Virus Cleaner Free for Home Use
AVG Antivirus has long been my recommended free virus cleaner but after using Avast! Home Edition V4, it looks like AVG has some real competition. The detection performance is impressive, recording 100% detection rates Virus Bulletin's monthly tests. Also impressive was the simple (and skinable) user interface and the automatic virus signature file updates. Avast! provides both file and email protection. The latter can be configured to work with any POP3/IMAP4 email client and there is a special module for direct integration into Outlook. I'm impressed but let me know your experience, particularly if you've also used AVG. (6.4MB)
The Fastest Browser?
The Mozilla project has spawned two separate browsers, both of which are free and available for Windows, Linux and Mac OSX. There's the original Mozilla complete with full blown email, news and editing features and that's now at version 1.5. Then there's my favorite, the smaller and much faster Mozilla Firebird. The just-released version 0.7 of the latter adds the ability to automatically download files to your desktop and open bookmarks in your sidebar using Web panels. If you are looking for a fast tabbed window browser with fewer security problems than Internet Explorer then you simply must check out Mozilla Firebird. I love it. (6MB)
Easy Way to Kill the Windows Messenger Service
I've mentioned this several times before but, based on the subscriber mail I get, it's worth repeating. If you run Windows NT/2000/XP/2003 then you really should turn off the Windows Messenger Service. It's turned on by default and can be used by spammers to interrupt your work with popup ads at anytime, even when you are not using your web browser. Another reason to turn it off is that there are some serious security risks associated with the service. The easiest way to disable it is to run Steve Gibson's tiny little utility called "Shoot the Messenger." And no, this won't affect your Windows Instant Messaging. That's an unrelated product that just happens to share the same name. (22KB)
Free PDF Creation Tool
A few issues ago I mentioned a low cost PDF creation program and this prompted long time subscriber JW to write in about the free utility called PDFCreator available from SourceForge. It works by setting up a pseudo printer in your system. To create a PDF you just select the PDF "printer" and write to it. (7.75MB)
Fetch Browser Links in Background
In a previous issue I described how you can use the MyIE2 browser to click links while reading a newsletter and have the links fetch in the background. This prompted subscriber Ravi Maharaj to write in about an alternative to MyIE2 called Sleipnir. He pointed out that Sleipnir doesn't steal focus like MyIE2 or IE so you can click newsletter links to your heart's content without your reading being interrupted. I checked Sleipnir out and it's an impressive. Like MyIE2 it's a free tabbed browser shell that uses the IE engine. It's got the cleanest interface of any of these products, it's zippy, and has an inbuilt scripting engine. On the minus side, the English language documentation is a bit thin on the ground and it doesn't support IE add-ins so that means you can't use the Google toolbar. BTW, Ravi should know a bit about shells; he's the editor of Shell Shocked, a web magazine specializing in, eh, shells. Check out his impressive web site. (956KB)
** Bonus Items for Supporters **
Transfer Data Easily to a Remote Server
WebDrive is a utility that integrates FTP, WebDAV, or FrontPage servers into the Windows desktop by making your web server appear as a local network drive. This simplifies the task of transferring and remotely managing host data as you can then treat the data in exactly the same way as if it were on your own PC. It all worked quite nicely on my Windows XP PC and offers two benefits. First, it's a simple alternative to running a specialist FTP program; and second, it's a way of giving any application access to remotely held data. Personally, I'll stick to WS_FTP Pro because I prefer to be conscious that I'm working with remote data. Shareware, $39.95, 20 day trial. (4.11MB)
Useful Outlook Add-Ins
Outlook users will love Redirect, a nifty little utility that allows you to redirect an email rather than simply forward it. This means that the recipient receives the message in the original form without the messy headers and quoting you get when you forward a message. Usage is simple: the program just adds another toolbar button ("Redirect”) next to the "Forward” button. It installed and worked flawlessly on my laptop but on my Dell Desktop PC it caused some strange problems. This just possibly could be due to conflicts with the numerous other Outlook Add-ins on that PC. Redirect is just one of 12 Outlook add-ins featured on the vendors web site. Free 30-day trial, Shareware, $24.00. (391KB)
A Notes Organizer that Really Works
I found this rather smart text file organizer to be a Godsend. At last, the hodgepodge of notes that litter my desktop and drive can now be stored, accessed, emailed or printed from one convenient location. The search function allows easy retrieval of a note by keyword, and inserting website hyperlinks or links to a file on your hard drive into a note will open the website or file with a click of a button. I tested .doc, .pub and .xls files types. Very nice indeed. Shareware, $25, 600KB. - A.S.
Free! Full-Text Search Your Hard Drive Files
Searchwithin is an adware-supported full-text search utility that will index the content of the files on your PC. Its strong suit is that it indexes a wide variety of file formats including various Microsoft Office file types, as well as WordPerfect and Adobe PDF. It's quite a nice product though it couldn't handle my Outlook .PST email files. The advertising is very intrusive but can be removed by paying a mere $9.95. (10.6 MB)
Got some favorite utilities to suggest? Send them to
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
Microsoft has announced that it is now merging all its new security bulletins into a single cumulative bulletin that will be published on the second Tuesday of each month. I've rescheduled this newsletter to be published on the second Wednesday of each month so I can include the latest news.
Buffer Overrun in FrontPage Server Extensions (813360)
Systems affected: Win2K SP1/2, WinXP & SP1, Office XP & SR1
Problem: There are two new security vulnerabilities in Microsoft FrontPage Server Extensions. The first, a buffer overflow problem, could enable an attacker to run code of choice. The second problem involves a flaw in the SmartHTML interpreter which, if exploited, could cause the server to fail. A patch is available from the link below or Windows Update.
Vulnerability in Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel (831527)
Systems affected: Win2K SP2/3/4, WinXP & SP1 & 64bit
An unchecked buffer in the Workstation service could allow an attacker to "take any action on the system, including installing programs, viewing data, changing data, or deleting data, or creating new accounts with full privileges." Windows XP users who have applied MS03-043 previously are not affected and do not need to patch this problem.
Buffer Overrun in the Office Workstation Service (828749)
Systems affected: Word 97/98/2000, Excel 97/2000/2002, Works Suite 2002/2003/2004
A flaw exists in the way Word checks macro names embedded in a document which, if exploited, could overflow a data value in Word and allow arbitrary code to be executed. The Excel flaw is in the macro security checking which could allow a malicious macro embedded in an Excel file to be executed automatically. Separate patches are available from the link below for each affected product version. Alternatively, go to the Office Update site.
Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer (824145)
Systems affected: IE V5.01, 5.5, 6.0 & SP1, 6 for Server 2003
This is the latest in the never ending series of Internet Explorer cumulative updates. As usual, this one includes all previous fixes plus patches for the most recently discovered vulnerabilities. The five new bugs include three particularly nasty cross-domain scripting problems so don't delay applying this patch. Details below or from the Windows Update site.
Office 2003 Update (828041)
Systems affected: Office 2003
"This update fixes a problem that occurs when you try to open or to save a Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003 file, a Microsoft Office Word 2003 file, or a Microsoft Office Excel 2003 file that includes an OfficeArt shape that was previously modified and saved in an earlier version of Microsoft Office." Users may be unable to open such files or file content may be corrupted.
Patches are available from the Office Update site or from the link below.
Enhanced OutClass Outlook Spam Filter
Outclass is the excellent free add-in that allows you to run the class-leading Bayesian spam filter POPFile from within Microsoft Outlook. These two free products work together to create a filter that is lethal to spam yet allows your real mail to go through unimpeded. Version 1.2.4 of OutClass has been released and includes many enhancements. It's still free but requires you to run version 0.19 of POPFile. (208KB)
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
Hassle-Free Way to Mirror Your Hard Drive
With hard drives so cheap these days, mirroring the entire contents of your main drive onto a second drive is an attractive backup option. But setting up a mirrored drive using a Raid controller and driver is a demanding exercise for most users. Arco is now offering a far simpler alternative. DupliDisk3 is a hardware box that fits into a spare drive bay and connects your main and mirrored drives using Raid-1. All that is required is the physical connection of the drives and then a simple configuration setup using the supplied management software. That's it, no fiddling with Windows, nothing. Now all your data, including the operating system, will be backed up in real time. Models are available to fit 3.5 and 5.25 inch bays as well as a PCI card version. Recommended retail is around $269 with street prices down to around $210.
Wanted: Shoshkele Blockers
Learn to Edit the Windows Registry
Check out this Microsoft article headed, "A Crash Course: Editing the Windows NT Registry." Despite the title, it's not just for NT but applicable to other Windows versions as well.
Stealth Your Drives
This article describes a simple way to make the physical disk drives mounted in your PC case look just like blank slots.
FTP Error Codes Explained
OK, what's a 451? Discover the meaning of all those strange 3 character FTP error codes here:
Improve Your Google Searches
Many users are unaware that Google will search for synonyms of a word if you prefix the term with the tilde character (~). For example a search on "registry ~tips" will also search for advice, techniques, guides and other synonyms for tips.
** Bonus Items for Supporters **
How to Get Better Tech Support
Next time you phone a supplier for support, start the conversation with the line "I'd like to let you know that this conversation is being recorded in order to monitor service quality." It works wonders. Actual recording is optional.
50 Ways to Lose Your Data
Well, there was the guy who actually shot his laptop. Then there was the dude whose laptop slid into his bath. Discover lots of new ways to lose your data here:
Cheap Way to Get HDTV
Now here's a neat new product - a digital TV tuner specifically designed to run under Linux. Furthermore, both the card and driver are compatible with a large number of open source projects. The price is good too, a reasonable $189. Not so good is the fact that you'll need a 1200MHz processor or better. It also requires particular versions of RedHat and is NTSC only.
How to Stop Windows XP Disk Data Corruption
All versions of Windows XP SP1 suffer from a bug that can corrupt data on ATA hard drives greater than 137GB. The problem is due to a faulty buffer flush when the system enters hibernation. Symptoms include spontaneous rebooting after leaving hibernation or simple data corruption. Get the fix here:
5. FREEBIE OF THE WEEK
Free Hotkey Utility
Everyone should own a keyboard management utility that allows you to assign common tasks to particular key combinations. For example, I use Ctrl F12 to run a little macro that counts the number of words in a selected section of text. There are any number of commercial utilities that will do the job but so will HotKeyz, and it's totally free for non commercial use. It can re-assign existing shortcuts or create new ones based on simple assignment or macro recording to any combination of keys including the WIN, CTRL, ALT & SHIFT keys.(961KB)
** Bonus Freebie for Supporters **
Free High Performance Remote Control Software
Ultr@VNC is a client/server package that allows remote control of another PC using a TCP/IP connection. It works with Windows W9x/NT/2K/XP and offers all the features you need including auto-configuration, easy user interface, extensive hotkeys and embedded file transfer. Apart from the fact that it's free, its strong suite is its speed. Ultr@VNC must be the fastest remote control package I've ever used. Just the thing for accessing your home PC while traveling, off-site troubleshooting or general network administration.
Got some top sites and services to suggest? Send them in
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Thanks to the following volunteer reviewers for their efforts:
Daniel Rose (D.R.)
Annie Scrimshaw (A.S.) aka Annmarie at www.cybertechhelp.com
Jeff Partridge (J.P.)
Sheila Foss (S.F) aka PippieT
Reviews written by Annie, Daniel, Jeff and Sheila are indicated
by their initials at the end of the review.
Thanks, too, to subscriber A. Belile for proofreading this issue.
Content of this newsletter is (c) Copyright TechSupportAlert.com, 2003
See you next issue
Ian “Gizmo” Richards