"Gizmo's top picks of the best
Tech resources and utilities"
Issue 107 - 17th March, 2004
Support Alert is a registered online serial publication
Quote of the Week
"Programming today is a race between software engineers striving
to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs and the universe
trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the universe
- Rich Cook
In the world of computing it's not often that that you manage to
get better performance and save money at the same time.
But that's just what I've managed over the last few weeks by
using an internet acceleration service.
I wrote about these services in Issue 103. In that issue, my
focus was on ways of improving surfing speed when using a modem
But after writing that editorial, I received nearly a dozen
letters from subscribers with broadband connections who reported
that they had achieved valuable improvements in surfing speed
using the same services I had recommended for modem users.
But they alerted me to something else. Some were actually saving
money. Here's how:
An internet acceleration service (IAS) achieves its speed
improvements by inserting a high speed server between your PC
and the site you are surfing to. An external proxy server if you
want to think of it that way.
Data that you request from a web site is transmitted from that
site to the IAS external proxy at high speed using a super fast
connection. At the IAS it is then compressed and re-transmitted
to your PC along your normal internet connection.
Once the compressed data reaches your PC it is decompressed on
the fly using client software provided by the IAS. It's then
displayed in the normal way on your normal browser.
It all happens invisibly to the user. All you notice is your
internet connection is running faster.
IAS vendors charge for this. The service I use costs around $60
The speed improvement comes mainly from the data compression.
More data is being transmitted in a given time. Simple as that.
But it is that same data compression that can save you money.
Many ISPs charge for broadband connection on the basis of the
amount of data you move per month. For example: $49 per month up
to one Gigabyte and $69 for up to 2 Gigabytes.
A number of readers reported to me that by using an IAS they
were able to drop from a higher ISP download scheme to a lower
one. Given that an IAS services costs around $5 per month, they
were saving money and getting better performance at the same
That saving is useful but I've been saving even more.
For the last few weeks I've been in Europe. Internet access
not generally been a problem as I've been able to connect to
local access points from my laptop using the GRIC global roaming
GRIC gives me access to over 44,000 local internet access points
worldwide. You can't subscribe to it, rather your ISP must
subscribe to it. Mine does, so I get GRIC access automatically.
However, it costs; typically this is $4 to $6 an hour on top of
your normal ISP charges.
These costs soon add up. Last month I spent over $300. But it
could have cost much mote.
By using an IAS my laptop modem internet connection runs at
nearly twice the speed.
Twice the speed means half the time connected. At $4-6 an hour,
that soon adds up. In fact, it dwarfs the measly $5 per month I
pay for the provision of the IAS.
This is actual dollar savings. I'm not even counting the time
savings. That's even more valuable to me than the dollars saved.
It all adds up to a great deal; faster surfing speed and money
saved as well.
There are a number of commercial IAS providers. I use a company
called Propel but it's only one of a several similar players.
Don’t confuse internet accelerator services like Propel with
software acceleration products that just run on your PC. The
best of this latter class of products (such as NaviScope) can
provide useful improvements but can't produce anything like the
improvement in speed or reduced data transfer that is possible
with external compression services.
I'll write more about IAS services in a future issue. Meantime,
if you are hungry to learn more, you can check out my original
modem acceleration editorial at
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. TOP TECH SITES
- Another Free Scumware Check
- XP Questions Answered
- Top site for IT White Papers
- DVD Compatibility Table
- The Top 20 Internet Security Vulnerabilities
- Remove the Bloat from Windows
- How to Make Windows XP Run Faster (SE Edition)
- Sounds for Linux (SE Edition)
- Mother of all Motherboard Sites (SE Edition)
- Free Version of RealMedia Without the Adware (SE Edition)
- New Microsoft Tweaking Utility
- New SpyBot Beta
- Display Text Embedded in Binary Files
- Icon Manager Solves System Tray Clutter
- New Version of PocketKnife Peek
- New Mozilla, New Name
- Easily View Windows XP Firewall Log (SE Edition)
- Best Free Color Picker (SE Edition)
- Free Utility Recovers Linux Files (SE Edition)
- Easy Way to Copy and Move Files (SE Edition)
- Genuine Security for Your PDA Data (SE Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
- Bug in WinZip Could Allow Code Execution
- Microsoft Outlook Bug Could Allow Code Execution (828040)
- MSN Messenger Bug Could Allow Information Disclosure (838512)
- Windows Media Services Bug Could Allow DOS Attack (832359)
- Update to 2003 ISAPI Extension Vulnerability (822343)
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
- Mobile Printing Solution
- 512MB Wallets
- Face Recognition with a Twist
- Narrow Your View
- New Bus Architecture Arriving in PCs in 2nd Quarter
- Share in Real Time (SE Edition)
- The Cheap-Micro-Drive-From-The-iPod Saga (SE Edition)
- Deep Ear Sound Impresses (SE Edition)
- The Next Generation Internet (SE Edition)
5. TIP OF THE WEEK
- A Different Way to View File Details
6. FREEBIE OF THE WEEK
- Best Windows Driver Backup Utility
- The Best Free Process Viewer (SE Edition)
1. TOP TECH SITES
Another Free Scumware Check
Click on the first link below and you'll get a quick check
whether your browser is scumware infested. The test doesn't
check for all the nasties currently circulating but finds many
of the common ones. Click on the second link to get access to
allows you to mount it on your own web site. BTW, if you have an
infection, download and run SpyBot or the free version of Ad-
aware to remove it.
http://www.safer-networking.org/ <= SpyBot
http://www.lavasoftusa.com/ <= Ad-aware
XP Questions Answered
This site offers an excellent collection of Windows XP tips
including answers to some of the most common only encountered
Top Site for IT White Papers
The papers on this site cover a wide range of subjects from CRM
to programming. I thought the security section particularly
useful with categories including authentication, content
filtering, encryption/cryptography, intrusion
detection/prevention and more. Be aware that some of these
papers come from product vendors.
DVD Compatibility Table
Not all recordable DVDs can be played on all DVDs players. Find
out what can and what can't from this web site. While there,
check out the impressive amount of other recordable DVD
The Top 20 Internet Security Vulnerabilities
The security organization SANS maintains a list of the top 20
internet vulnerabilities for Windows and UNIX. Also listed are
the most commonly attacked TCP ports which is useful information
when configuring firewalls. The list is updated periodically and
is well worth bookmarking.
Remove the Bloat from Windows
Most versions of Windows are loaded up with components you don't
really need. This site offers cut down versions that take up
less space and run faster. One of my gaming friends claims that
the 98 Lite version is the fastest version of Windows ever.
** Bonus Items for Supporters **
How to Make Windows XP Run Faster
This site lists a step-by-step procedure for optimizing the
performance of Windows XP. Most of it is good advice but comes
at a cost in the form of slightly downgraded appearance and the
loss of little-used features and services.
Sounds for Linux
If you're using Linux, you are familiar with the various issues
involved in playing MP3 or using MIDI. This site provides lots
of useful information about Linux audio software, drivers, sound
cards and more.
Mother of all Motherboard Sites
Everything you ever wanted to know about motherboards including
reviews, how-to guides and a good assortment of free tools.
Free Version of RealMedia Without the Adware
The BBC, British media giant, is currently offering from its
website a free version of the RealMedia player which, according
to Boing Boing blog, has had all the adware and spyware
Got some top sites to suggest? Send them to
New Microsoft Tweaking Utility
MS has released Tweakomatic, a WMI scripting utility that
"allows you to retrieve and/or configure Windows and Internet
Explorer settings" on a local or remote computer. In essence
it's a kind of like TweakUI with the advantage that it works on
remote machines, which makes it a very handy product for
sysadmins. Freeware, 258KB.
New SpyBot Beta
SpyBot is my favorite free Spyware removal program. A new beta
version is now available that offers enhanced detection features
along with some new elements. I've tried it on my XP laptop and
it seems quite stable. That said, it is a beta so use at your
own risk. Freeware, 4.7MB
Display Text Embedded in Binary Files
This tiny DOS command line utility will display any text
embedded in a binary file. You'll be surprised how much
information about a program can be gleaned from this simple
procedure. I should note that this DOS program worked perfectly
on my XP Pro PC. While at this site check out the other free DOS
utilities. Freeware, 6KB.
Icon Manager Solves System Tray Clutter
System Tray real estate is one of the most valuable and highly
congested areas of the Windows interface. PS Tray factory
allows you to consolidate many different icons into one master
icon. Right clicking this icon pops up a vertical menu giving
easy access to the individual icons and their right click/left
click functions. The product also offers complete control over
what icons are selected as well as their properties. Those
using Windows versions other than XP will also reap the
additional benefit of gaining XP-like task bar features. On my
XP machine this utility freed up two full inches of notification
area space - quite enough to earn it a permanent place on my
machine. Shareware, $24.95, 716KB.
New Version of PocketKnife Peek
This free utility has long been one my favorite Outlook add-ins.
It works by adding a button to the tool bar which, when pressed,
opens any HTML message as text. This allows you to safely open
any unknown message without fear of triggering a hostile script
or web bug. PKP also allows you to easily examine the full
message headers, which can be very useful at times. The latest
version of PKP now lists all email attachments including the
full contents of attached ZIP archives. A neat feature is that
attachment file names are shown with embedded blanks deleted,
thus eliminating one of the common ways of disguising an
attachment’s true file type. A must for every Outlook user.
Free for personal use, 520KB.
New Mozilla, New Name
Version 0.8 of Mozilla (FireBird-should be FireFox?), the free,
open-source and cross-platform web browser, is now out. Also out
is the name "FireBird." The product now is called FireFox,
apparently because of objections from the FireBird database
people. There are many new features and improvements in the new
version including a download manager, better handling of
bookmarks and a full Windows installer. My first impressions are
highly favorable: it's stable, looks great, and offers one of
the fastest surfing experiences available. On the minus side
it's still slower to load than my browser of choice, MyIE2 and
there are fewer tools and add-ins. However, if you are looking
for a fast and safe tabbed browser, you simply must include
FireFox on your evaluation list. Free, 6.2MB.
** Bonus Items for Supporters **
Easily View Windows XP Firewall Log
I guess you could describe the Windows XP firewall as a "set and
forget" product. Personally, I think it's more like "set and
start worrying" because the product, once installed, gives you
no information at all to let you know that it is actually
working. You can reduce this anxiety with the free utility
FireLogXP, which gives you easy access to the Win XP firewall
log file, pfirewall.log, as well as a detailed statistical
analysis of what's been happening. If there are any problems
detected, FireLogXP provides some useful diagnostic tools. P.S.
Check out some of the other free tools on the site while you’re
there. Freeware, 616KB.
Best Free Color Picker
Color pickers are designed to let you select a color from a web
page so that you can easily use that color in a page you are
creating. I've used many but found the freeware program Cpick to
be among the best. It copies colors to the clipboard as hex,
decimal, RGB or HSV values and has many unique features. While
visiting the developers site check out some of the other
excellent freeware utilities offered. Freeware, 274KB.
Free Utility Recovers Linux Files
R-Linux is a free file recovery utility for the Ext2FS file
system used in the Linux OS and several UNIX variants. It will
attempt to recover files lost by deletion, corruption, virus
infection or accidental formatting. It will recover files from
existing logical disks even when file records are lost.
Recovered files can be saved on any accessible disk. Freeware,
Easy Way to Copy and Move Files
Here's a free utility that will save you a couple of mouse
clicks every time you copy or move a file. It works by adding a
new item called "Any Folder" to the "Send to" option in the
Windows right-click context menu. Of course it's even quicker to
use a two pane Windows Explorer replacement such as 2XExplorer
but those who like to stick to the standard Windows components
will find this product a real time saver. Freeware, 885KB.
Genuine Security for Your PDA and SmartPhone Data
Here's a product so sufficiently secure that it's been used by
the U.S. Department of Defense. PDA Defense is software that
offers multi-layered security for Palm, Pocket PC, Blackberry
and some SmartPhone devices. You can even choose your
encryption: Blowfish 64, 128 or 512; or AES 128, 192 or 256-bit.
It can even be programmed to securely erase data after a certain
number of failed password attempts. Nothing in this world is
100% secure but PDA Defense provides industrial strength
protection in an easy to use package. Shareware, free trial,
Got some favorite utilities to suggest? Send them to
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
Bug in WinZip Could Allow Code Execution
Security firm iDEFENSE has reported a buffer overflow
vulnerability in WinZip which could be exploited to allow
execution of arbitrary code on a user's system with full user's
privileges. The vulnerability affects WinZip 6.2, up to and
including the latest beta release of 9.0. The problem has been
fixed in the released version of WinZip 9.0. All users of
affected versions should consider upgrading to the latest
Microsoft Outlook Bug Could Allow Code Execution (828040)
Severity: Critical (Revised upwards from "Important")
Systems affected: Office XP/2002 Service Pack 2
Problem: "A security vulnerability exists within Outlook 2002
that could allow Internet Explorer to execute script code in the
Local Machine zone on an affected system. The parsing of
specially crafted mailto URLs by Outlook 2002 causes this
vulnerability." The vulnerability could be exploited through a
malicious web site or specially crafted HTML email and could
allow access to files on a user's system or the execution of
MSN Messenger Bug Could Allow Information Disclosure (838512)
Systems affected: Microsoft Messenger Versions 6 and 6.1
Problem: "A security vulnerability exists in Microsoft MSN
Messenger. The vulnerability exists because of the method used
by MSN Messenger to handle a file request. An attacker could
exploit this vulnerability by sending a specially crafted
request to a user running MSN Messenger. If exploited
successfully, the attacker could view the contents of a file on
the hard drive without the user's knowledge as long as the
attacker knew the location of the file and the user had read
access to the file."
Windows Media Services Bug Could Allow DOS Attack (832359)
Systems affected: Windows 2000 Server Service Packs 2, 3 and 4
Problem: "Vulnerability exists because of the way that Windows
Media Station Service and Windows Media Monitor Service,
components of Windows Media Services, handle TCP/IP connections.
If a remote user were to send a specially-crafted sequence of
TCP/IP packets to the listening port of either of these
services, the service could stop responding to requests and no
additional connections could be made. The service must be
restarted to regain its functionality."
Update to 2003 ISAPI Extension Vulnerability (822343)
Systems affected: Windows Media Services
Problem: Microsoft has released an updated patch for a
vulnerability first disclosed in 2003. Apparently, under certain
circumstances, the original patch did not replace the vulnerable
file on the hard drive. Reapplication of the new patch is
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
Mobile Printing Solution
Years ago I used to own a marvelous Epson portable printer that
measured about 1 foot long and one inch around. Since the demise
of that series there have, IMHO, been few good mobile printer
solutions. However, Canon is now offering their new i80 photo
printer with the option of a battery and auto adapter. It's a
good option for those who need to print on the go but expensive
with a street price of around $200.
The high capacity and tiny size of USB flash drives alarm
organizations with the prospect of the company's database
walking out the door in an employee’s pocket. Well, things just
got worse. This tiny 512MB memory stick will fit in a wallet!
Face Recognition with a Twist
Physiognomy is the discredited "science" of determining a
person's character from their physical characteristics,
particularly the face. This utility claims to offer a digital
version of physiognomy. It's nonsense of course, but you can
create lots of harmless fun by analyzing the faces of your
friends and relatives.
Narrow Your View
Here's the perfect response for all geeks who have been accused
of only being interested in computers. The Sumacke anti-glare
eyewear is a set of shades that limit your field view to your PC
screen only. They are actually designed to help reduce glare but
you've got to be impressed with the meta-message. $19.95.
New Bus Architecture Arriving in PCs in 2nd Quarter
The PCI architecture used in almost all PCs is about to be
replaced with the new PCI Express standard. Formerly known as
3GIO, PCI Express is an open standard that uses high-speed
serial link technology similar to that found in Gigabit
Ethernet. Its adoption will remove one of the major PC
performance bottlenecks. More details here:
** Bonus Items for Supporters **
Share in Real Time
BitTorrent is an important new technology that was designed to
improve the efficiency of file sharing but has many potential
applications. Its principal feature is to link downloading to
uploading in real time so that information can be more
efficiently and equitably shared. This plain English article
from the NYT explains how it works.
The Cheap-Micro-Drive-From-The-iPod Saga
In the last few weeks the Internet has been awash with
discussions about how you can remove the $479.95 Hitachi
MicroDrive from a $249 Apple iPod mini and use for other
purposes such as storing digital photos. If the idea interests
you, this site will quickly bring you up to speed.
Deep Ear Sound Impresses
The professional audio company Shure has come up with ear buds
that seat fully inside your ear canal. The result is much better
sound; better isolation from outside noise and a waxy set of ear
buds that not even your closest friend will want to borrow.
The Next Generation Internet
The Semantic Web concept is to add meaning to the web not just
more data. This portal site provides a fascinating glimpse of
what may come.
5. TIP OF THE WEEK
Reader Lisa Carmody recently wrote, "Sometimes I need to know
full details about an individual file but I hate changing the
View to show details for all files as the screen gets too messy.
Is there a free utility that allows me to press a hotkey to show
the details for just one file?"
Well Lisa, you don't need a separate utility because this
capability is built into Windows. In fact, you can do it several
ways but the most convenient is simply to turn on the Status
Toolbar from My Computer. This will show full file details of
any highlighted file in a separate line at the bottom of the
To turn on the Status Toolbar, simply select View from within My
Computer then check Status Bar.
6. FREEBIE OF THE WEEK
The Best Windows Driver Backup Utility
I used to recommend WinDriversBackup for this task but it has
now, unfortunately, morphed into freeware. However, I can
suggest you try WinRet as a replacement. It will not only back
up your drivers but also your system registry, program settings
and preferences, shortcuts, Favorites, Outlook Express folders,
accounts and message filters as well. As a bonus, it even
allows you to tweak some of your system settings. I didn't try
the latter but can report that the driver backup and restore
worked well. It's not quite as simple to use as WindriversBackup
but, then again, it has much more functionality. (227KB)
** Bonus Freebie for Supporters **
The Best Free Process Viewer
PrcView has long been my choice for best in class but Process
Explorer has pushed it aside. The reason? A better display setup
coupled with more features and even more information. Process
Explorer uses two vertical panes. The top contains all active
processes while the second shows either all the handles opened
by a selected process or, optimally, a list of DLLs and memory
mapped files. A very handy search feature allows you to work
backwards from named DLLs or handles to the owning process. A
gem. Freeware, 230KB.
Got some top sites and services to suggest? Send them in to
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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
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