Gizmo Richards Support Alert Newsletter - Premium SE Edition

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

 Premium SE Edition
Issue 128,  14th December, 2005

IN THIS PREMIUM EDITION

0. EDITORIAL - end of year reflections
1. SUPPORT ALERT AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE FOR 2005
1.1 Product of the Year
1.2 Best Free Utility
2. BEST TECH SITES AND RESOURCES FOR 2005
2.1  Site Offers Free Malware Test for Suspicious Files
2.2  Good Malware Prevention and Removal Site
2.3  Help with Spyware You Simply Can't Remove
2.4  Guide to Building an Unattended XP Install CD
2.5  Search Podcasts and RSS Feeds
2.6  Spyware-Free P2P Clients
2.7  How to Reinstall Windows Without Losing Your Data
2.8  $50 FolderShare Web Service Now Free
2.9  Fast Free Anonymizing Service
2.10 Free Spyware Scan
2.11 Free Bootable Ubuntu Linux CD
2.12 More Secure Cookie Management for Internet Explorer
2.13 The Best Internet Network Information Site
2.14 Master BitTorrent Search Site
2.15 Make Sure You Don't Have a Rogue Anti-Spyware Scanner
2.16 Help for Outlook Express Users

** Additional items in this Premium SE Edition **

2.17 How to Remove Master Boot Record Viruses
2.18 How to Improve Your Internet Security
2.19 How to Reduce the Noise From Your PC
2.20 Cryptography Snake Oil Revealed
2.21 How to Fix Dead Pixels in Your Monitor
2.22 How to Burn an ISO Image to CD or DVD
2.23 Free Photoshop Video Tutorials
2.24 How to Identify DNS Problems
2.25 Try out PHP/SQL Server Software for Free
2.26 Securing Wi-Fi in the Enterprise
2.27 Email Service Allows You to Change Sent Mail
2.28 Free Stock Photos for Private and Commercial Use
3. BEST FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES FOR 2005
3.1 Free Utility Identifies Download File Size
3.2 Use One Keyboard and Mouse with Several Computers
3.3 Firefox Extension Lets You Use Old Extensions
3.4 Find Out What's Taking Up Your Disk Space
3.5 Free Utility Resets Read Only Files
3.6 Free Utility Minimizes Windows Apps to the System Tray
3.7 Free RSS Readers/Aggregators
3.8 Outstanding Firefox Extensions
3.9 Google Toolbar for Firefox
3.10 Remove Web Ads, Popups, Cookies and Enhance Your Privacy
3.11 Free Utility from Microsoft Detects Network Sniffers
3.12 Free Enhanced Calculator from Microsoft
3.13 Free Utility Offers Alternative to Hotkeys
3.14 Free Spell-Checkers for FireFox and Internet Explorer
3.15 Free Sound File Format Converter

** Additional items in this Premium SE Edition **

3.16 Outstanding Free Remote Access Program
3.17 Clean Out the Junk From the Windows Uninstaller
3.18 Automatically Convert iPod Music Files to MP3
3.19 Free Digital Camera Lens Correction Software
3.20 Free Tool Protects Shared PCs
3.21 Free Utility Extracts Data from Unreadable CDs
3.22 Excellent Free Memory Test Utility
3.23 Free Email Program Ideal for Travelers
3.24 Free Utility Warns of Potential Disk Drive Failures
3.25 Free Full-Featured Accounting Package
3.26 Utility Restores Computers to a Standard Configuration
3.27 Free Flash Drive Backup Utility
3.28 Best Free Disk Cloning Program
3.29 New Free Autostart Manager Best in Class
3.30 Best Free CD Catalogue Organizer
3.31 700MB of Free Games
3.32 Extract Music Files from Your iPod to Your PC
4.0 MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION
5.0 AN EXCELLENT CHRISTMAS GIFT
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.

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.

Gizmo Richards
mailto:editor@techsupportalert.com


1. SUPPORT ALERT AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE 2005

1.1 Product of the Year

Winner: Mozilla FireFox Browser V1.5

Firefox V1.0 won my Product of the Year Award in 2004 and the just released V1.5 takes the prize again for 2005.

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:

  • browsing back and forth between sites is now lightning fast.
  • there is a new "Clear private data" feature that allows you to erase your internet tracks with the click of a button
  • updating of the base product and extensions is now automatic with support for incremental downloads
  • rendering has been improved and can be customized on a site specific basis to handle problematic and non-conforming sites
  • tabs can be re-arranged using drag and drop
  • the interface for options and preferences has been improved and the choices enhanced
  • popup blocking has been improved to handle the latest advertiser tricks

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.

For its contribution to internet security I'm happy to declare Microsoft Antispyware the Best Free Utility for 2005.

2. BEST TECH SITES AND RESOURCES FOR 2005

A Wonderful Christmas Gift
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 a 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 in a couple of minutes:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/gift-subscription.htm

2.1 Site Offers Free Malware Test for Suspicious Files

Regular contributor Richard Thomas writes, "This [1] 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 [2] which uses 13 top of the line AV products to scan the suspect files you submit.
[1] http://www.virustotal.com/flash/index_en.html
[2] http://virusscan.jotti.org/

2.2 Good Malware Prevention and Removal Site

Here 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.
http://www.malwarehelp.org/

2.3 Help with Spyware You Simply Can't Remove

Some 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.
http://www.tomcoyote.org/hjt/

2.4 Guide to Building an Unattended XP Install CD

This 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.
http://unattended.msfn.org/

2.5 Search Podcasts and RSS Feeds

Podcasts are really taking off since Apple introduced PodCasting support in iTunes. This site offers a good searchable directory of what podcasts are available [1]. If you are looking for an RSS feed on a particular topic then check out this RSS search engine [2].
[1] http://podcastalley.com/
[2] http://www.completerss.com/

2.6 Spyware-Free P2P Clients

Find out which P2P programs are clean and which are infected from this table:
http://www.spywareinfo.com/articles/p2p/

2.7 How to Reinstall Windows Without Losing Your Data

Worth bookmarking; one day you may need it. Better still, print a hard copy. ;>)
http://pcworld.about.com/magazine/2109p156id111652.htm

2.8 $50 FolderShare Web Service Now Free

I've 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.
http://www.foldershare.com

2.9 Fast Free Anonymizing Service

Anonymouse [1] 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 [2] and Tor [3] but most folks don't need that anyway and besides, Anonymouse is way faster.
[1] http://anonymouse.org/
[2] http://anon.inf.tu-dresden.de/index_en.html
[3] http://tor.eff.org/

2.10 Free Spyware Scan

I've written before about Trend Micro's excellent free online anti-virus scanner. Now they are offering a free anti-spyware scanner [1] 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 [2] version.
[1] http://housecall.trendmicro.com/
[2] http://fr.trendmicro-europe.com/consumer/products/housecall_launch.php

2.11 Free Bootable Ubuntu Linux CD

If 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 [1] as a full installation version or as a bootable live CD which includes all the free software from TheOpenCD project [2]. 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 [3] 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 [4].
[1] http://www.ubuntulinux.org/download/
[2] http://theopencd.org
[3] http://www.ubuntu.com/download/support/documentation/faq/shipit/
[4] http://www.paulstamatiou.com/2005/10/24/how-to-ubuntu-linux-for-novices/

2.12 More Secure Cookie Management for Internet Explorer

If 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.
http://anon.inf.tu-dresden.de/ie6_privacy_en.html

2.13 The Best Internet Network Information Site

It's 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.
http://www.dnsstuff.com/

2.14 Master BitTorrent Search Site

Here's 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 search engine.
http://www.torrenttyphoon.com/
http://www.btbot.com/

2.15 Make Sure You Don't Have a Rogue Anti-Spyware Scanner

There 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.
http://www.spywarewarrior.com/rogue_anti-spyware.htm#products

2.16 Help For Outlook Express Users

Here you'll find an excellent collection of usage tips, how-to guides and solutions to common problems. Check out the FAQ, it's excellent.
http://insideoe.tomsterdam.com

** Additional items in this Premium SE Edition **

2.17 How to Remove Master Boot Record Viruses

A 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:
http://www.itechs-systems.com/articles/a5.htm

2.18 How to Improve Your Internet Security

This site offers some excellent security advice for experienced users. I particularly liked the suggested settings for enhancing the security of Internet Explorer.
http://surfthenetsafely.com

2.19 How to Reduce the Noise From Your PC

If 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 will help.
http://www.bigbruin.com/techtips/techtip009.html

2.20 Cryptography Snake Oil Revealed

An excellent technical article on the pitfalls to be avoided when buying cryptographic products.
http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-9902.html#snakeoil

2.21 How to Fix Dead Pixels in Your Monitor

Dead 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%.
http://www.psp-vault.com/Article168.psp

2.22 How to Burn an ISO Image to CD or DVD

The 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 products.
http://iso.snoekonline.com/iso.htm

2.23 Free Photoshop Video Tutorials

Nice collection. I particularly liked the tutorial on recovering badly under-exposed images.
http://www.lombergar.com/v5/list/tutorials

2.24 How to Identify DNS Problems

This 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.
http://www.dnsreport.com/

2.25 Try out PHP/SQL Server Software for Free

At 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.
http://www.opensourcecms.com/

2.26 Securing Wi-Fi in the Enterprise

This 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 particularly helpful.
http://www.wi-fi.org/membersonly/getfile.asp?f=WFA_02_27_05_WPA_WPA2_White_Paper.pdf

2.27 Email Service Allows You to Change Sent Mail

Ever 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.
http://www.bigstring.com/

2.28 Free Stock Photos for Private and Commercial Use

Here 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 impossible.
http://www.sxc.hu/
http://www.istockphoto.com
http://www.creatingonline.com/stock_photos/


3. BEST FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES FOR 2005

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 Utility Identifies Download File Size

It's 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.
http://www.moveax.com/eng/content/view/7/13/

3.2 Use One Keyboard and Mouse with Several Computers

Normally 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)
http://synergy2.sourceforge.net/

3.3 Firefox Extension Lets You Use Old Extensions

One 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.
http://users.blueprintit.co.uk/~dave/web/firefox/buildid/nightly.html

3.4 Find Out What's Taking Up Your Disk Space

Spacemonger 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.
http://www.werkema.com/software/spacemonger.html

3.5 Free Utility Resets Read Only Files

It's 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
http://davidcrowell.com/Croa.aspx

3.6 Free Utility Minimizes Windows Apps to the System Tray

I've 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.
http://www.teamcti.com/trayit/trayit.htm

3.7 Free RSS Readers/Aggregators

If 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 [1]. However Live Bookmarks is a bit minimal and most users would be better off installing a full Firefox RSS extension. Sage [2] is the safest bet for most users though some may prefer Pluck [3] 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 [4] and GreatNews [5]. Those wanting to integrate RSS with Microsoft Outlook email might like to try RSS Popper [5].
[1] http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/livebookmarks.html
[2] http://sage.mozdev.org/
[3] http://www.pluck.com/
[4] http://www.blogbridge.com/
[5] http://www.curiostudio.com/
[6] http://rsspopper.blogspot.com/2004/10/home.html

3.8 Outstanding Firefox Extensions

Here are three less-known Firefox extensions that could really lift your productivity, particularly if you are an RSS user. The first is ScrapBook [1]. 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 [2]. 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" [3], 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.
[1] http://amb.vis.ne.jp/mozilla/scrapbook/
[2] http://firefox.exxile.net/
[3]https://addons.mozilla.org/extensions/moreinfo.php?application=firefox&id=324

3.9 Google Toolbar for Firefox

There's 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.
http://toolbar.google.com/firefox/index.html (291KB)

3.10 Remove Web Ads, Popups, Cookies and Enhance Your Privacy

My 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.
http://www.privoxy.org/
http://computercops.biz/files/ProxN45.exe <= The Proxomitron
http://accs-net.com/smallfish/prox.htm <= Proxomitron help

3.11 Free Utility from Microsoft Detects Network Sniffers

Microsoft 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 framework. (255KB)
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=1a10d27a-4aa5-4e96-9645-aa121053e083&DisplayLang=en

3.12 Free Enhanced Calculator from Microsoft

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 only, 475KB.
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=32B0D059-B53A-4DC9-8265-DA47F157C091

3.13 Free Utility Offers Alternative to Hotkeys

I'm 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 later, 168KB.
http://www.bayden.com/SlickRun/

3.14 Free Spell-Checkers for FireFox and Internet Explorer

I use an excellent free extension for FireFox and the Mozilla Suite called SpellBound [1] 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 [2] which includes a quite usable spell-checker or, better still, install the free plug-in IESpell [3], a long time fave of mine before I moved to Firefox.
[1] http://spellbound.sourceforge.net/
[2] http://toolbar.google.com/index_2
[3] http://www.iespell.com/

3.15 Free Sound File Format Converter

Thanks 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.
http://nch.com.au/switch/index.html

** Additional items in this Premium SE Edition **

3.16 Outstanding Free Remote Access Program

I 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.
http://www.logmein.com

3.17 Clean Out the Junk from the Windows Uninstaller

Most 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.
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=290301

3.18 Automatically Convert iPod Music Files to MP3

There 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 [1] 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 [2]. 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.
[1] http://www.hotrecorder.com/products/product_hotrecorder4media.asp
[2] http://www.mp3mymp3.com/mp3_my_mp3_recorder.html

3.19 Free Digital Camera Lens Correction Software

As 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
http://epaperpress.com/ptlens/

3.20 Free Tool Protects Shared PCs

Whether 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, 2.2MB
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=7256D456-E3DA-42EA-857D-92B716077A84&displaylang=en

3.21 Free Utility Extracts Data from Unreadable CDs

It's 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.
http://www.smart-projects.net/isobuster/

3.22 Excellent Free Memory Test Utility

Memtest86 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)
http://www.memtest86.com/

3.23 Free Email Program Ideal for Travelers

Pimmy 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 versions, 612KB.
http://www.geminisoft.com/en/

3.24 Free Utility Warns of Potential Disk Drive Failures

It 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
http://www.hddlife.com/
http://www.storagereview.com/guide2000/ref/hdd/perf/qual/featuresSMART.html

3.25 Free Full Featured Accounting Package

If 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.
http://www.turbocash.co.za/

3.26 Utility Restores Computers to a Standard Configuration

Reader 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 volume purchases.
http://www.faronics.com/html/DFStd.asp

3.27 Free Flash Drive Backup Utility

Microsoft's 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, 650KB.
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=94991901-BFC4-485E-BCAE-C9DF0ACCDAAE&displaylang=en

3.28 Best Free Disk Cloning Program

HDClone 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.
http://www.miray.de/products/sat.hdclone.html

3.29 New Free Autostart Manager Best in Class

Emisoft, 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, 500KB.
http://www.hijackfree.com/en/

3.30 Best Free CD Catalogue Organizer

I 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, 1.75MB.
http://www.lyrasoftware.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=5

3.31 700MB of Free Games

If 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.
http://games-knoppix.unix-ag.uni-kl.de/
http://torrent.unix-ag.uni-kl.de/stats.html?info_hash=38369418679499cc3c18c70c5e5248e59c322f5e

3.32 Extract Music Files from Your iPod to Your PC

SharePod 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. Donationware, 231KB.
http://www.sturm.net.nz/website.php?Section=iPod+Programs&Page=SharePod

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5.0 AN EXCELLENT CHRISTMAS GIFT

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