IN THIS PREMIUM EDITION
0. EDITORIAL - end of year reflections
** Additional items in this Premium SE Edition **
2.17 How to Remove Master Boot Record Viruses3. BEST FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES FOR 2005
** Additional items in this Premium SE Edition **
3.16 Outstanding Free Remote Access Program4.0 MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION
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.
But my most special thanks go to you dear reader and all the other subscribers to the Premium SE edition of this newsletter. Without your financial support this publication would have folded long ago. In that sense, it is your newsletter.
To all of you, I wish peace, happiness and prosperity for 2006.
See you next month.
1. SUPPORT ALERT AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE 2005
1.1 Product of the Year
Mozilla FireFox Browser V1.5
At first glance version 1.5 seems little changed from version 1 but under the hood the changes are many and significant. Here are just a few:
Perhaps the most important change has been the further enhancements to security. Firefox has always been a safe browser and the latest changes have made it even safer.
In fact, it is Firefox's high level of security that is the principal reason why I have awarded Firefox 1.5 "Product of the Year."
Yes, Firefox is also a great browser. Yes, it has many features totally missing from Internet Explorer. Yes, it has many free extensions that allow users to totally customize their browsing experience.
But security is the killer feature. With the internet awash with unscrupulous hostile web sites trying to infect your PC with unwanted spyware, users need all the protection they can get. Firefox provides outstanding primary protection against such attacks.
Almost all of these exploits utilize flaws in Microsoft Internet Explorer or Microsoft's proprietary ActiveX technology. Firefox users are immune to these attacks.
It is true that Firefox has suffered its own security flaws that could be exploited; however, the Mozilla organization has patched these promptly and effectively. So promptly in fact that I have never seen an active exploit that utilizes any Firefox flaw. In contrast, I see exploits utilizing Internet Explorer flaws every single day.
Over the year I've received dozens of letters from subscribers who have changed from Internet Explorer to Firefox. A common theme in these letters has been the dramatic reduction in spyware infection since using Firefox.
No browser can ever be 100% safe but Firefox is safer than most. That's the main reason why I recommend it to all users. It's also why Firefox is the worthy winner of my 2005 Product of the Year.
1.2 Best Free Utility for 2005
Winner: Microsoft Antispyware Beta
Although Microsoft Antispyware is an outstanding product, I was reluctant to choose it. That's because whenever I recommend any Microsoft product I always get vehemently slammed by the anti- Microsoft vigilantes. Mind you, if I criticize a Microsoft product I get equally abused by the Microsoft apologists. ;>)
But I've chosen to set politics aside. Microsoft Antispyware is a damn fine product and a worthy winner.
2005 has been the year of the great spyware plague. All users now need to protect their PCs with an effective anti-spyware product in addition to a competent anti-virus scanner.
Microsoft Antispyware is easily the best free anti-spyware product available.
In all my tests it comfortably outperformed its main rivals SpyBot Search and Destroy 1.4 and Ad-aware 1.6. It out-performed many commercial anti-spyware scanners as well.
Its particular strength is the quality of its real-time monitors that are constantly checking your PC for possible new infections. These monitors are noticeably more effective than the "Teatimer" monitor used in SpyBot. The free version of Ad- aware does not have any monitors.
Good as it is, there is an upgraded version of MS Antispyware on the way. It will be called Windows Defender and will include an enhanced user interface, the addition of rootkit detection and improved signature file updating.
Windows Defender will form part of an integrated set of security utilities that will be included in the upcoming Windows Vista operating system.
Windows Defender will also be made available to Windows XP users who use MS Antispyware via a software update. Timing details have yet to be announced.
Although MS Antispyware is the outstanding free anti-spyware product, it is not without its limitations.
First, it's only available for Windows 2000 and later.
Second, it may be the best free anti-spyware product but it's not currently quite as good as the best commercial products CounterSpy and WebRoot SpySweeper, both of which offer somewhat better detection and removal.
Third, its memory monitors may provide great protection but they eat up a quite a few of your CPU cycles in the process. Consequently, users with older, slower PCs may experience a performance hit. MS Antispyware is not alone in this characteristic but it's something you should be aware of.
That said, MS Antispyware is currently providing excellent protection for millions of PCs. For users with relatively recent PCs it the best free anti-spyware product available.
2. BEST TECH SITES AND RESOURCES FOR 2005
Wonderful Christmas Gift
2.1 Site Offers Free Malware Test for Suspicious Files
contributor Richard Thomas writes, "This  is a useful
site Gizmo. You can upload a suspicious file and have it checked
by several virus scanners and then have a report emailed to
you." Thanks Richard, nice find - though I wish they documented
exactly what AV scanners they use. That's one of the reasons I
like the service offered by jotti.org  which uses 13 top of
the line AV products to scan the suspect files you submit.
2.2 Good Malware Prevention and Removal Site
you can find excellent advice on how to configure your
system to reduce the chance of spyware infection plus detailed
information how to remove an existing infection. Most of this
information is available elsewhere but the site owner Shanmuga
has done an excellent job compiling the information and making
it accessible. Well worth visiting and bookmarking.
2.3 Help with Spyware You Simply Can't Remove
spyware just keeps on re-appearing on your PC no matter how
many times you remove it. When this happens, download HijackThis
from this page and follow the instructions. These folks should
be able to help you permanently get rid of the problem. It won't
cost you a cent, either.
2.4 Guide to Building an Unattended XP Install CD
site offers a clear how-to guide with separate instructions
for beginners, intermediates and advanced users. When completed
you'll have an unattended Windows XP install CD that includes
SP2 and all subsequent hot fixes.
2.5 Search Podcasts and RSS Feeds
are really taking off since Apple introduced PodCasting
support in iTunes. This site offers a good searchable directory
of what podcasts are available . If you are looking for an
RSS feed on a particular topic then check out this RSS search
2.6 Spyware-Free P2P Clients
out which P2P programs are clean and which are infected
from this table:
2.7 How to Reinstall Windows Without Losing Your Data
bookmarking; one day you may need it. Better still, print
a hard copy. ;>)
2.8 $50 FolderShare Web Service Now Free
reported favorably about FolderShare in previous issues.
It's a web service that allows you to automatically synchronize
and/or share files in a given folder across multiple computers.
It also allows you access these files from any computer.
FolderShare used to offer a cut-down service for free but a full-
featured service with unlimited file space and individual files
up to 2GB cost $50. Not anymore. FolderShare has just been
bought by Microsoft and you can get the full premium service for
free. I recommend you sign up, it's an unbeatable deal. Use it
for syncing your home and office data, sharing photos and other
large files with friends or simply as online backup of your
critical data. To use the service you need to sign up on the web
site and download the FolderShare "Satellite" client software.
Free, Windows ME and later plus Mac OSX 10.3.8+, 646KB.
2.9 Fast Free Anonymizing Service
 is a free web service that allows you to browse
anonymously via their site. No proxy setup is required; all you
have to do is go to the Anonymouse home page and enter the
address of the site you want to browse to. Anonymouse also
offers from their site a free web based anonymous email system
called AnonEmail. Anonymouse has been recommended by over a
dozen subscribers and I can see why; it's relatively fast for an
anonymizing service, easy to use and free. I doubt that it
provides the industrial strength security of services like JAP
 and Tor  but most folks don't need that anyway and
besides, Anonymouse is way faster.
2.10 Free Spyware Scan
written before about Trend Micro's excellent free online
anti-virus scanner. Now they are offering a free anti-spyware
scanner  as well. This one is not online; you have to
download the 1.7MB file and then run it on your PC. It works
just like McAfee's Stinger program in that there are no
signature file updates so if you want to run the program in the
future you have to download the latest version of the full
program once again. It's a pretty competent anti-spyware scanner
and will fix any problems detected. It's well worth the download
even if you are already using another anti-spyware product; two
opinions are always better then one. While at the Trend Micro
site why not try their free online anti-virus scan as well? It's
accessible from the same page as the spyware scanner. It will
only work with Internet Explorer but Firefox and Opera users can
use this  version.
2.11 Free Bootable Ubuntu Linux CD
you haven't dabbled with Linux for a while you should try the
latest 5.1 release of Ubuntu. It's a real step forward in both
ease of installation and general usage. It's available for free
download  as a full installation version or as a bootable
live CD which includes all the free software from TheOpenCD
project . The live CD version is a great way to try out Linux
without risking your Windows setup. It also allows you to test
drive popular Open Source software products such as OpenOffice,
Thunderbird, AbiWord and The Gimp which come pre-installed on
the CD. Ubuntu.org will even send you free CDs containing both
the full install and live CD versions by mail  though you do
have to register first. You can even order multiple sets of CDs
to give away to friends. They are truly free as the Ubuntu organization wears
the mailing cost as well. Now how good is that? Before
installing Linux beginners should check out the introductory
guide referenced in the last link below .
2.12 More Secure Cookie Management for Internet Explorer
you configure IE to not accept any cookies, you'll find that
quite a few web sites won't work correctly. I was over at the
JAP security site the other day and noticed this downloadable
IE6 cookie configuration file that allows you accept cookies for
a single web session and then dispose of them when the session
ends. It's a neat solution.
2.13 The Best Internet Network Information Site
been a while since I last visited the DNS Tools site and in
the interim it has added a whole batch of new online inquiry
tools to its already excellent collection of free services.
There are too many tools to describe but if you need to know
anything about a web site, URL, email address or web routing
then this is the place to go.
2.14 Master BitTorrent Search Site
a nice find; a site that allows you to do a single search
that will cover all the major BitTorrent sites. If you can't
find what you want, try the second link which is to another BT
2.15 Make Sure You Don't Have a Rogue Anti-Spyware Scanner
are more than 200 bogus anti-spyware scanners out there
trying to cash in on the current spyware plague. Many of these
products generate a long list of supposed infections on your PC
to panic users into buying. Worse still, some of these
"security" products are actually themselves spyware. Almost all
use product names similar to well known, reputable brands in
order to confuse customers. Here's a complete list of products
you should avoid compiled by security researcher Eric Howes.
Check this list before buying any anti-spyware product.
2.16 Help For Outlook Express Users
you'll find an excellent collection of usage tips, how-to
guides and solutions to common problems. Check out the FAQ, it's
** Additional items in this Premium SE Edition **
2.17 How to Remove Master Boot Record Viruses
number of malware products evade detection by taking over the
MBR on your hard drive. Cleaning them out is not all that
difficult - just follow the instructions outlined here:
2.18 How to Improve Your Internet Security
site offers some excellent security advice for experienced
users. I particularly liked the suggested settings for enhancing
the security of Internet Explorer.
2.19 How to Reduce the Noise From Your PC
the noise from your PC is starting to drive you insane then
check out this useful guide. It outlines the various options to
reduce noise and provides some useful links to products that
2.20 Cryptography Snake Oil Revealed
excellent technical article on the pitfalls to be avoided
when buying cryptographic products.
2.21 How to Fix Dead Pixels in Your Monitor
or "stuck" pixels are a common flaw in digital monitors,
however, it is possible to try to "un-stick" them. This site
show how. The claimed success rate is around 60%.
2.22 How to Burn an ISO Image to CD or DVD
web site may be ugly but the instructions are good. Here
you'll find a step by step for just about every CD burning
software product on the market including a number of free
2.23 Free Photoshop Video Tutorials
collection. I particularly liked the tutorial on recovering
badly under-exposed images.
2.24 How to Identify DNS Problems
site will provide a comprehensive DNS report for a given
domain name. Everyone with a web site should use this to see if
there are problems they don't know about.
2.25 Try out PHP/SQL Server Software for Free
this site you can be sysadmin for two hours for dozens of
different free/Open Source server-side applications. It's great
for testing out alternatives. For example, if you are looking at
groupware you can try out eight different packages.
2.26 Securing Wi-Fi in the Enterprise
useful white paper describes the steps necessary to
implement secure WPA and WPA-2 Wi-Fi in a company or workgroup.
The section on setting up an authentication server is
2.27 Email Service Allows You to Change Sent Mail
send an email only to regret it later? We all have, but
this service allows you to change the content of your email
after it's sent. It works by storing your email as a web page on
a server. The recipient just gets a link to the page. I tried
the free account (20 emails per month) and it works as
advertised. I can't see myself using this for my normal email
but I can envision occasions when it would be very handy.
2.28 Free Stock Photos for Private and Commercial Use
are numerous sites that offer free stock photos. Many are
free for both personal and commercial use. The first site is my
favorite even though access can be sometimes slow or even
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.
3.1 Free Utility Identifies Download File Size
often useful to know the size of a file before you download
it, particularly if you have a slow connection or are
approaching your bandwidth quota. Most folks do this by starting
the download and then looking at the indicated file size in
their download manager but InternetFileSize offers a far simpler
solution. It works by adding a menu item to the right click
context menu. All you do is right click on a download link and
InternetFileSize shows the true file size, modification date and
the true download path. Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 575KB.
3.2 Use One Keyboard and Mouse with Several Computers
you need a KVM hardware switch to achieve this but
Synergy is a free open source package that lets you do it with
software. As a bonus, you can also switch between computers with
different operating systems. Switching is achieved by simply
moving your mouse off the edge of your screen. You can even cut
and paste between machines. Neat eh? (543KB for Windows version)
3.3 Firefox Extension Lets You Use Old Extensions
of the annoyances about installing a new version of Firefox
is the likelihood that one or more of your old extensions won't
work with the new version. This will become a pressing problem
for many users when they upgrade to version 1.5. You can get
around this by using the free "Nightly Tester Tools" extension
which allows you to re-install your old extensions by bypassing
compatibility testing. It adds a check box to the Firefox
install dialog box. When checked, the extension will be
installed regardless. That doesn't mean it will necessarily
work, though, so use with appropriate caution.
3.4 Find Out What's Taking Up Your Disk Space
is a free utility that displays the amount of space
taken up by all the different folders and files in your system.
It does this via a graphic display where the screen size of each
folder is proportional to the space it takes on disk. At first
look it seems rather ungainly, but it is actually extremely
effective. Better still, the program does not need to be
installed; all you have to do is run the executable file. This
suits me fine as I only occasionally have need for this kind of
utility - so why have it cluttering your Registry when you don't
need it? Freeware, all Windows versions, 103KB.
3.5 Free Utility Resets Read Only Files
a familiar problem; you copy your report to a CD-ROM at
work but when you take it home and transfer the file to your
hard drive you find you cannot edit the file. The problem is
that CD-ROM is a read-only medium so Windows flags any files as
"Read Only." When you copy any files to your hard drive, the
"Read Only" attribute gets copied too. Resetting the file
attribute to "Read-Write" is not all that hard from Windows but
it's much easier to use a specialist utility, particularly when
a lot of files are involved. Thanks to Robert Conley for letting
me know about CROA, a tiny free utility whose name tells it all;
Clear Read Only Attributes. It's easy to use, will clear
individual files, folders or whole drives and works at lightning
speed. A nice little addition to your toolkit. Freeware, Windows
98 and later, 285KB
3.6 Free Utility Minimizes Windows Apps to the System Tray
mentioned in the past a couple of programs that allow you
to do this but I must say TrayIt! impressed me with its
combination of simplicity and effectiveness. First, it requires
no installation; just double click the program file and it's up
and running. Second, it can minimize open windows to the tray
either temporarily or permanently with just one click. Third, it
handles "difficult" windows such as skins, with ease. Fourth, it
works with all versions of Windows. Fifth, it's a tiny 45KB!
Finally, it's free. A little gem.
3.7 Free RSS Readers/Aggregators
you want to make use of the new Support Alert RSS feeds
you'll need an RSS Reader of one sort or another. There's no
shortage of options with dozens of stand-alone products on the
market but one of the sweetest ways to access RSS is through
your browser. Firefox users can subscribe to and read RSS feeds
using the built-in Live Bookmarks feature. Use the first link
below for a simple tutorial . However Live Bookmarks is a bit
minimal and most users would be better off installing a full
Firefox RSS extension. Sage  is the safest bet for most users
though some may prefer Pluck  because it allows you to store
your feeds and bookmarks on a central server which you can then
access from any PC. However, the centralized storage causes
Pluck to run slower than Sage which stores information locally.
Internet Explorer users can use also use Pluck as there's an IE
add-in available. In fact, the IE version has more features than
the Firefox version. If you want a stand-alone reader, check out
two free, third generation aggregators BlogBridge  and
GreatNews . Those wanting to integrate RSS with Microsoft
Outlook email might like to try RSS Popper .
3.8 Outstanding Firefox Extensions
are three less-known Firefox extensions that could really
lift your productivity, particularly if you are an RSS user. The
first is ScrapBook . This allows you to save web pages, page
snippets and links into hierarchical collections. Kind of like
bookmarks on steroids with the web content available for offline
use. All material you save can be annotated and you can even
edit the raw material itself. On top of that, you can search
saved collections including all saved web pages. Just the thing
for all you information hunters and collectors for saving
interesting information from web sites as well as your favorite
blogs and feeds. The second extension I'd like to recommend is
All-In-One Sidebar . This allows you to select and load any
of your Firefox sidebars with a single click. That includes
bookmarks, history, Download, Sage, Scrapbook and more. I've
always found the Firefox sidebar a little awkward to use but
this extension pretty well solves the problem. It's a real
timesaver, particularly if you a switching between Sage and
ScrapBook. It also provides a number of other benefits like
listing your extensions alphabetically and giving you fine
control over how clicked links open in tabs. The third
extension, "Livelines" , is a little more mundane but
valuable in its own way. It allows you to add an RSS feed to
Sage (or Bloglines or many other RSS readers) simply by clicking
the Firefox Live Bookmarks icon that appears in the browser
status bar of RSS enabled sites. It's simple, neat and
effective. All three extensions work with the current V1.06
version of Firefox.
3.9 Google Toolbar for Firefox
been an unofficial third party version of the Goggle
Toolbar for the Firefox browser for some time. It works well
enough but has been just been eclipsed by the release of
Google's own version. It includes all of the same features of
the third party version but adds many additional capabilities
including SpellCheck, a web form spelling checker, AutoLink that
turns street addresses into links to online maps, AutoFill for
filling out online forms and WordTranslator for foreign language
word translation. It looks better and is more compact as well.
As a bonus, it even includes some features not found in Google's
Internet Explorer Toolbar such as the useful ability to open
search links in new tabs.
3.10 Remove Web Ads, Popups, Cookies and Enhance Your Privacy
favorite tool for filtering web content has long been "The
Proxomitron" but I'm well aware that it's way too complex for
most users to set up. A lot simpler is the free Open Source
utility Privoxy. It's basically an enhanced version of the well
known JunkBuster utility and filters content in the same way as
JunkBuster by setting up a proxy server that sits between your
browser and the web. In addition to filtering ads, it can also
enhance your privacy and security by blocking cookies and
masking referrer and other browser information. Once installed
all that's involved is configuring your browser's proxy
settings, a 30 second job. Most users can simply use the default
settings and they'll be rewarded with some excellent and
intelligent filtering. Advanced users will find a lot to play
with. FireFox users won't find much at all as FireFox already
has excellent filtering via the free AdBlock extension.
Freeware, all Windows versions, 1.27MB.
3.11 Free Utility from Microsoft Detects Network Sniffers
has released a free security utility tool called
Promqry 1.0 designed to detect the unauthorized presence of
sniffers on a network. The utility, which can be operated
through a graphical user interface or via command line, works by
looking for network devices that are operating in promiscuous
mode. It requires Windows 2000 or later and the Microsoft .NET
3.12 Free Enhanced Calculator from Microsoft
Calculator Plus is really three calculators in one.
First, it's a normal four function calculator; second, it's a
full fledged scientific calculator; and finally, it's a powerful
unit conversion calculator. The scientific functions are
extensive and it will handle hex, octal and binary arithmetic as
well. The conversions offered are also comprehensive. It's a
pity they didn't offer a financial calculator mode as well, but
even so it is a most impressive freebie. Freeware, Windows XP
3.13 Free Utility Offers Alternative to Hotkeys
not a great fan of hotkey programs for a couple of reasons.
First, I keep forgetting the key assignments; second, I find I
run out of free key combinations very quickly. SlickRun solves
these problems by using "magic words" rather than hotkeys. It
places a tiny text box on your screen and when you type
specially assigned words into the box, they will launch a
program, go to a web site or whatever. For example if you type
"mail" it can launch your mail reader. Type in "46" and it can
take you to the web page of the "46 Best-ever Freeware
Utilities." Of course, it's up to you to define these magic
words and you can have as many as you want. It all works very
neatly with some really nice touches like auto-complete for your
magic words which means you only have to type in two or three
letters and SlickRun will complete the rest. Nice too, is an
eyedropper tool that allows you to identify a program you want
to "hotkey" just by clicking in its application window. There's
also a built-in note jotter and a calendar date display. All
this in a tiny 168KB. Highly recommended. Freeware, Win 98 and
3.14 Free Spell-Checkers for FireFox and Internet Explorer
use an excellent free extension for FireFox and the Mozilla
Suite called SpellBound  that will check the spelling in any
web form. Make sure you follow the installation instructions
carefully. Internet Explorer users can use the new Google
Toolbar  which includes a quite usable spell-checker or,
better still, install the free plug-in IESpell , a long time
fave of mine before I moved to Firefox.
3.15 Free Sound File Format Converter
to modest subscriber "willemien" for suggesting this free
utility that will convert from wav, mp3, ogg, flac, aac, wma,
au, aiff, ogg, msv, dvf, vox, atrac, gsm, dss and other formats
into mp3 or wav. There's a paid version as well that handles
even more formats but the free version should meet the needs of
most users. Check out the other sound utilities at the site, all
of which work together to form a most impressive sound
processing suite. Freeware, all Windows versions, 312KB.
** Additional items in this Premium SE Edition **
3.16 Outstanding Free Remote Access Program
have been recently trying out LogMeIn, a commercial remote
access program suggested to me by subscriber Chris Paetz. It's
an impressive product with excellent security but frankly I
still prefer my long term favorite, GotoMyPC. However, LogMeIn
also offers a cut down version for free. It's actually pretty
good - easy to set up, reasonably fast in operation for a remote
access program and has an excellent user interface. You can't
transfer files; that's a feature only available in the
commercial version, but it handles most other remote operations.
Just the thing for remotely checking an email that's on your
home computer, running programs remotely and similar uses. To
use the system, you must first create a free account at the web
site and register your PC. After that you can download the
software onto the host PC. You can then access the host PC from
any PC by simply logging into your account at the LogMeIn site.
Of course, the remote PC must be connected to the internet if
you wish to access it. Free for personal use, Java required,
Windows 98 and later.
3.17 Clean Out the Junk from the Windows Uninstaller
users who try out lots of programs end up with dead entries
in the Windows Uninstaller (aka the Add/Remove Programs utility)
that can't be removed or uninstalled. The usual cause is program
uninstalls that went wrong or programs that have no uninstaller.
A number of commercial utilities are available that will delete
these defunct entries but few folks know that Microsoft provides
a free tool that does the same thing. It removes the offending
program from Add/Remove programs and tidies up the corresponding
Windows uninstaller registry entries but can't, of course,
remove registry entries, DLLs and files that belong to the
defunct program. In fact, I know of no program that will do that
automatically. That's best done by hand. Still, it's useful to
be able to clean out all those dead entries from the Windows
Uninstaller. Freeware, all Windows Versions, 1.23MB.
3.18 Automatically Convert iPod Music Files to MP3
are any number of utilities available than can create MP3
files from another format by re-digitizing the analog sound that
comes out of your sound card. This technique, however, always
results in some loss of quality. The loss can range from the
unnoticeable to the unplayable depending on the quality of the
ADC (Analog to Digital Conversion). In contrast, pure digital to
digital conversion suffers almost no loss in quality but is not
always possible due to digital rights protection schemes such as
that used on the iPod. HotRecorder for Media  is a $19.95
shareware utility that claims to be able to convert your music
files to MP3 format while "maintaining the original quality of
the audio files." Now, I'm no audio engineer but that statement,
if true, would imply digital conversion. If not, the claim is
false or at best an exaggeration. I'm no lawyer either and can't
comment on the legalities involved. What I can say is that when
I tested HotRecorder I thought the MP3s produced sounded fine
but no better than those produced by the free program Mp3mymp3
. This doesn't surprise me; MP3 is after all a lossy format.
Where HotRecorder did impress was its ability to semi-
automatically generate MP3 files from my iTunes library; a real
convenience factor. HotRecorder is available on a trial basis
(with a 60 second song time limitation) so you can decide for
yourself. Shareware, $19.95, Windows 2000 and later, 1.85MB.
3.19 Free Digital Camera Lens Correction Software
the website says, "PTLens is free software that corrects lens
pincushion/barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, and
vignetting. PTLens is available as a standalone application or
Photoshop plug-in." The site offers a good collection of
downloadable lens parameters for popular cameras and gives
instruction on how to configure your own if your camera is not
listed. I tried the Photoshop plug-in and it worked a treat,
though I should add that my needs are very modest. Freeware,
Windows 2000 and later, 170KB
3.20 Free Tool Protects Shared PCs
it's in a school environment, an Internet cafe or a home
network, system administrators are faced with the problem of
preventing users from engaging in risky practices. The new
Shared Computer Toolkit for Windows XP from Microsoft addresses
this problem by providing tools that allow the sysadmin to
protect the Windows partition, restrict user access to programs,
control the files that may be saved to hard drives, plus a host
of other useful management features. Free beta, Windows XP SP2,
3.21 Free Utility Extracts Data from Unreadable CDs
pretty common to encounter unreadable CDs. The causes are
many, ranging from simple scratches through to partially written
sessions. ISOBuster is free utility that will allow you extract
any usable information on the CD (or DVD) to your hard drive. It
works by bypassing Windows and talking directly to the hardware.
As an added bonus it can read old sessions, decode multiple
image file formats, recover data from quick formatted DVDs and a
host of other useful data recovery features. You can use most of
the functions in ISOBuster for free but it will cost you $25.96
to enable some of the advanced functions such as recovering data
from MAC UDF or HFS(+) file systems. Windows 95 and later, 2.5MB.
3.22 Excellent Free Memory Test Utility
is a stand-alone GPL utility that provides
comprehensive memory testing for all x86 based PCs regardless of
the operating system. It can be run from a floppy disk, CD or
USB drive. It's a tool geared towards experienced users; if
that's you, download it now for your PC toolkit. (58KB)
3.23 Free Email Program Ideal for Travelers
is a small but feature rich email program that fits on a
single floppy disk. It doesn't need to be installed so it can be
run directly from compact disk or any removable media. Once
you've saved your account settings, you can easily access your
POP mail from any PC that will accept removable media. These
features have combined to make Pimmy the email client of choice
for travelers and other public internet terminal users. Note
that, although Pimmy offers a bit more security than using the
software provided on a public terminal, it won't save you from a
keylogger that may be installed. As ever, show appropriate
prudence when using a public system. Freeware, all Windows
3.24 Free Utility Warns of Potential Disk Drive Failures
may surprise you but many disk failures are not random or
instantaneous but rather are preceded by a relatively slow
degradation in disk performance parameters. This degradation
can be detected using a monitoring system called S.M.A.R.T that
is built into many modern drives and their controllers. HDDlife
is a utility that runs in background and monitors the health of
any hard drives on your system that support S.M.A.R.T. It can
give you early warning of an impending failure which gives you
time to backup your data and change the drive. HDDlife only
works with internal IDE and Serial ATA disks. Free for non-
commercial use, Windows 2K or later, 1.5MB
3.25 Free Full Featured Accounting Package
you are running a small to medium size business and looking
for a full fledged accounts package then check out TurboCash.
It's powerful, flexible and has a downloadable chart of accounts
for the USA and UK. You can download it for free though there
is a charge for a CD version, the plug-ins and some
documentation components. Note: I haven't evaluated this product
as I know zip about accounting. Caveat Emptor. Freeware, 65MB.
3.26 Utility Restores Computers to a Standard Configuration
Keith Welton writes, "Your recent editorial about
ShadowSurfer sounds similar to a program that we deploy in the
school district that I work in. We use a program called Deep
Freeze. As an IT department it allows us to configure a PC
exactly how we want it, then we "Freeze" it. Any user can do
whatever they want to the machine, load software, open viruses,
etc., but as soon as you the reboot the pc it returns exactly to
the way we initially configured it. This program is especially
great for Win 98 machines - we have hundreds! I'm not sure if
this will be helpful for anyone else, but it works for us. As
always, keep up the good work! Your newsletter is the
greatest!" Thanks for that Keith. The way I read it, Deep
Freeze sounds more like restoring from a drive image than
ShadowSurfer but it looks like a great tool for tech support.
Pricing starts from $29.95 per PC but drops substantially for
3.27 Free Flash Drive Backup Utility
USB Flash Drive Manager is a simple utility designed
to allow users to back up and restore data to USB flash drives.
The program is fairly basic but it more than compensates with
its ease of use. For many folks it will be all they ever
require. Note: To use this program you must have the Microsoft
.NET framework installed on your PC. Freeware, Windows XP only,
3.28 Best Free Disk Cloning Program
is a free version of a commercial hard drive cloning
product. It allows users to make an exact copy of one hard drive
onto a second. This is, of course, useful for backup, but the
main application is when upgrading to a larger hard drive. What
I like about this product is that it fits onto a floppy and has
its own operating system built in so you are not limited by the
OS limitations of the host PC. The free version won't clone
identical or smaller size disks and can't handle SCSI or ultra-
DMA. If you can live with these limitations, you'll get a great
product for nix. Free for non-commercial use, 473KB.
3.29 New Free Autostart Manager Best in Class
the maker of the highly regarded a-squared anti-trojan
program, has released V1.0 of HiJackFree. This is a
sophisticated utility that lists Windows autostart programs,
processes, services, Explorer add-ons, open ports and more. The
autostart listing is particularly comprehensive with over 50
locations covered including numerous obscure autostart sites not
covered by any other similar utility. Some of these tricky
locations were so obscure that I was forced to do some quick
research on Google to learn a bit more about them. The on-screen
information provided for each item is also comprehensive and is
supplemented with a web based service that gives excellent
guidance on the function of each item and the level of threat
presented. Full editing facilities are provided including the
ability to stop or delete items. After using this product for a
while I can state confidently that it provides more useful
information about what programs are running on your PC than any
other free utility I've used. This makes it a superb tool for
chasing down spyware, trojans, keyloggers and other unwanted
pests that may be secretly infecting your PC. However, like all
such programs, it is potentially dangerous in the hands of a
beginner. For experienced users, though, this program is a must-
have addition to your toolkit. Freeware, Windows 98 and later,
3.30 Best Free CD Catalogue Organizer
don't really have a need for this kind of product but if you
do then you'll be interested in this excellent suggestion from
subscriber David Killian Woods. "Disclib is a terrific utility.
I archive all of my projects to CD/DVD and keep them in a
fireproof box for storage. But there are over 30 full discs now
(half are DVDs), and many of them have multiple versions of the
same project. Disclib keeps an index of the file/directory
structure of every disc, so I can search through them all
without having to swap 30 discs in my drive! Invaluable!" Thanks
for that David, nice find. Freeware, Windows 2K and later,
3.31 700MB of Free Games
you enjoy games you really should grab this. The University
of Kaiserlautern is offering a full Knoppix distribution with
700MB of free games complete with ATI, NVIDIA and Intel Extreme
support. No need to install Linux, just boot from the CD using
your normal Windows system. The games include Castle-Combat,
Globulation 2, Hatman, Kobodeluxe, Miniracer, Pingus, Rafkill,
Boson, Bsdgames, Crimson Fields, Dosbox (Emulator), Empire,
Konquest, Mangoquest, Pysol, Tuxcart, Zsnes (Emulator), Ace-of-
penguin, Battle for Wesnoth, Bzflag, Bzflag-Server, Clanbomber,
Crossfire, Enigma, Foobillard, Freeciv, Freeciv-server, Freesci,
Gltron, Gnuchess, Jump'n'Bump, Ksokoban, Lbreakout2, Lgeneral,
Miniracer, Nethack, Netpanzer, Neverball, Tuxracer, Xgalaga,
XMame, XMess, Xpilot and more.
3.32 Extract Music Files from Your iPod to Your PC
is a free utility that will not only allow you to get
your music off your iPod, but it also allows you to move files
from your PC back to your iPod without using iTunes.
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