Gizmo Richards Support Alert Newsletter - Premium SE Edition

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

Premium SE Edition,  Issue 131
16th March, 2006

IN THIS PREMIUM EDITION ISSUE:

0. EDITORIAL: How to surf with complete security Part 3

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 How to Get a Free Premium Subscription
1.2 Outstanding Video How-To Site
1.3 Convert MS Word and Excel Documents to PDF
1.4 Site Lists P2P Clients Loaded with Spyware
1.5 Save Money by Making Your Own Ethernet Leads
1.6 Help Site for ZoneAlarm
1.7 How to Back Up, Restore and Move Outlook Express Email SE
1.8 Some Smiles for Techies (SE Edition)
1.9 Free MS Excel Resources (SE Edition)
1.10 BitTorrent Clients Compared (SE Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 The Best Drive Imaging Program
2.2 The Best Free Reminder/To-Do Program
2.3 Free Utility Adds Voice Email to Outlook
2.4 The Best Free Parental Filter: Part 2
2.5  Another FireFox Backup Extension
2.6 The Best Free CD Burning Software (SE Edition)
2.7 Outstanding Process Viewer and Startup Manager (SE Edition)
2.8 How to Send Large Email Files from Your Own PC (SE Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security
3.2 Microsoft Antispyware Beta 2 Tests
3.3 Running Some Apps as a Limited User from an Admin Account
3.4 uTorrent V1.5 Released
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 The Ten Best Watches for Geeks
4.2 How to Put Your DVDs on a Video iPod
4.3 Make Your Own CD Cases from Paper
4.4 Customized Internet Radio Only Plays Songs You Like
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.6 Dozens of Free Games (SE Edition)
4.7 How to Shuffle and Cut a Deck of Cards One-Handed (SE)
4.8 How to Download Music Files in Lossless Format (SE Edition)
4.9 How to Speed Up Your BitTorrent Downloads (SE Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Use Windows Update with Firefox
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 A New Way to Delete Un-deletable Files
6.2 How to Decrypt Protected iTunes Songs (SE Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION
0.0 EDITORIAL

This month I'll show you two more free ways to surf safely.

But first, let's recap.

In issues #129 and #130 I talked about using the free VMWare Reader and the free Ubuntu LiveCD to surf safely. Both are great solutions but both are a little awkward to use as they take several minutes to start up.

Today I'll show you two different free products that will allow you to start surfing safely in seconds rather than minutes.

The first is called Sandboxie. Its name accurately describes what it does: it creates a sandbox environment on your PC within which you can browse safely.

The strange name "sandbox" derives from the Java world where it refers to the highly contained and restricted environment in which Java programs (applets) are allowed to run. They are allowed to "play in the sandbox" but not go outside it. The important point is that while running in the sandbox, the programs have no access to your PC.

So it is with Sandboxie. While browsing within the environment provided by Sandboxie you are totally corralled off from your other parts of your PC. Any files you download are isolated to the sandbox. Similarly, any programs that are executed only do so within the sandbox and have no access to your normal files, the Windows operating system or indeed any other part of your PC.

This means you have complete browsing security. Nothing you do while browsing can have any effect on your PC outside the sandbox.

Starting SandBoxie is simple. You just double click the Sandboxie icon and it will launch your default browser within the sandbox. When you've finished browsing you have the option of deleting all files accumulated in the sandbox during the session or retaining specific files. The secure option is to delete the lot.

It's a neat solution for safe surfing but there are some caveats. First, Sandboxie only works on Windows 2000 and later so Win9x users are out of luck. Second, the system is only safe if you choose the option of deleting all files at the end of your browsing session. Third, you have to be constantly mindful whether you are browsing in the safe sandbox environment or just browsing normally as the two environments look exactly alike. This is a real problem and I do wish the makers of Sandboxie would do something to make the sandboxed environment look visually different.

I also wonder about SandBoxie's ultimate security compared to using VMWare or a Linux LiveCD. I wasn't able to break out of the sandbox environment and get access to my PC but maybe a smart hacker could.

I don't have these residual concerns about the next option: surfing from Damn Small Linux within a QEMU virtual machine running on your Windows PC.

This is bit similar to the option of running a Linux on your Windows PC within a VMWare virtual machine that I mentioned in issue #129. It differs in that the virtual environment is created using the free Open Source program QEMU rather than VMWare.

Damn Small Linux (DSL) is a special cut-down version of Knoppix Linux that only takes up 50MB. However, it does include a pre- installed version of Firefox so it's ideal for creating a safe- surfing environment.

This may sound daunting to set up but it's not. The folks at DSL have included everything you need in a single archive. All you need do is download the 50 MB DSL archive, unzip it to a folder and run the file dsl-windows.bat.

This will automatically launch QEMU and then Damn Small Linux which will auto-install, including automatic network configuration. On my test 3.2 GHz P4 the whole process took less than one minute.

Running Firefox from within DSL is no more complex the clicking the Firefox icon on the DSL desktop. Ending your session is equally simple: just right click on the desktop and select "Power down."

When you power-down, all traces of your surfing session will disappear. That includes any files downloaded, any cookies and your whole surfing history.

This all sounds very attractive but I must warn you that QEMU takes up a lot of processing power; bags of it. You'll need at least a 2.0 GHz Pentium class processor to run it and even then you'll find response to be sluggish. With faster processors, though, it will work just fine.

So that's it folks. You now have four free options for safe surfing; VMWare Reader, the Ubuntu Linux LiveCD, Sandboxie and DSL under QEMU.

Which is best? Well, if convenience is your top priority then you can't beat Sandboxie. If you have a really fast PC then you'll be tempted by DSL and if you want the best security VMWare and Ubuntu are the way to go; it's your call.

Whatever option you choose you will soon discover that once you are freed from security and privacy concerns you will be free to surf the internet without fear, to go to places you would normally never dream visiting and to try things you wouldn't normally dare. All this, while knowing that at the end of your browsing session, you can wipe everything from your PC without leaving a trace.

Sandboxie: Free for non-commercial use, Windows 2000 and later, 310KB.
http://www.sandboxie.com

DSL+QEMU: Free GPL/GNU software, All Windows versions, 49.5MB.
http://damnsmalllinux.org/

See you next month.

Gizmo
supporters@techsupportalert.com

1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 How to Get a Free Premium Subscription

Guys, I need your help. I've decided to change the name of the newsletter as the current name "Support Alert" is generic, non- memorable and not even descriptive. I've been racking my brain for a new title and have come up with a few possibilities such as "Gizmo's Guide" and "TopTekTips" but I'm not sure. So I've decided to have a subscriber competition. Here's the deal: the reader who comes up with the best suggestion for the newsletter title will score $100, a free lifetime premium edition subscription, some free software plus, of course, ever-lasting fame. So put on that thinking cap and send in your suggestions to:
newname@techsupportalert.com

1.2 Outstanding Video How-To Site

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

1.3 Convert MS Word and Excel Documents to PDF

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

1.4 Site Lists P2P Clients Loaded with Spyware

Some P2P programs will infect your PC with adware and spyware when you install them on your PC while others are as clean as a whistle. Find out which from this informative article.
http://www.spywareinfo.com/articles/p2p/

1.5 Save Money by Making Your Own Ethernet Leads

Cat 5 Ethernet cable costs less than 10 cents a foot while two RJ-45 connectors will cost you only 32c. That means you can make a five foot cable for 82 cents. Full instructions here:
http://www.urltrim.com/ct/t.php?l=75

1.6 Help Site for ZoneAlarm

Judging from the subscriber letters I get, lots of folks have trouble configuring the ZoneAlarm firewall. If that's you then head for this site where you'll find lots of useful tips. The layout is a bit hard on the eyes but the content is good. Thanks to subscriber Howard Kampff for this one.
http://www.donhoover.net/

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

1.7 How to Back Up, Restore and Move Outlook Express Email

There's no need to spend a cent on this; just follow this Microsoft Guide. Some of these pages use ActiveX so you may have to browse them with Internet Explorer rather than Firefox or Opera.
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/270670

1.8 Some Smiles for Techies

Subscriber Sherry Sanford sent me this excellent collection of tech cartoons. They made me laugh so I put them on a web page for all to share.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/tech-jokes.htm

1.9 Free MS Excel Resources

The web design at this site [1] is poor but the tips, tricks and tutorials are excellent. Check out the second link, too. This site is not only easier on eyes but has excellent information for Excel users at all levels.
[1] http://www.mvps.org/dmcritchie/excel/excel.htm
[2] http://www.mrexcel.com/articles.shtml

1.10 BitTorrent Clients Compared

Here you'll find a table listing features for 25 of the top clients. The user comments are just as interesting with my two favorite clients, Azureus and uTorrent, receiving the thumbs up from most users.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_BitTorrent_clients

Got some top sites to suggest? Send them to
supporters@techsupportalert.com

2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 The Best Drive Imaging Program

A drive imaging program is a utility that creates a backup snapshot or image of your disk drives, most commonly your system drive. You can use that backup image to recover from system failures, spyware infections, installations gone wrong or any of the dozens of other things that can seriously mess up your PC. Every PC I own has a drive imaging utility installed and I use these regularly to make image backups of the C: drives. I simply can't tell you just how many times I've been able to use these backup images to restore a non-working PC to perfect health. Restoring from an image only takes me minutes while a full Windows re-install can take many hours or even days when you take into account re-installing application programs. That's why I recommend every PC should be imaged regularly using a reliable imaging program. Now let me tell you the harsh truth: when it comes to the best imaging program it's a two horse race between the commercial products Acronis True Image and Norton Ghost with the freeware contenders trailing by a couple of miles. Not that there aren't some usable freeware products; it's just they aren't in the same league when it comes to function, features and reliability. Choosing between True Image and Ghost is tough because they are both quality programs. That's why I asked regular Support Alert contributor J.W. to review the latest versions of these products. In his normal methodical way he's scrutinized each from top to bottom and pronounced one the winner. Find out which from J.W's full review on the Support Alert web site. Just teasing actually, here's what J.W. concluded: "I will be removing Symantec Ghost from my system. My recommendation and choice ... for a disk-imaging program is Acronis True Image." Please do read J.W's review though; it's outstanding.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/drive-imaging-reviews.htm

2.2 The Best Free Reminder/To-Do Program

There are literally dozens of free stand-alone reminder programs. Even more if you include sticky notes utilities and calendaring programs that offer reminder features. Many, I can assure you, are not worth installing. Of the nine programs I looked at, two impressed me for their ease of use of their reminder and "to-do" features. "Easy To-Do" [1] has the starkest interface of any of the products I reviewed yet it is among the most effective in use. It has all the features you need but no more, including unlimited task lists, task categories, recurring reminders, audible and visual alarms, adjustable snooze, configurable reports and more. It's been really well thought through with lots of nice touches like the ability to add a new task or reminder by simply right-clicking the tray icon. Rainlender [2] by contrast, is a much slicker product but a tad more difficult to use. Rainlender is not only a reminder program but a very capable iCal "compatible" desktop calendar, though the calendar feature can be turned off. Used as a reminder and "to do" program it's very feature rich with a really snazzy interface employing things like variable windows transparency, impressive mouse-over effects, hotkeys and easy skinning. It also has several features missing from Easy To-Do such as the ability to synchronize events between clients as well as Outlook appointment integration. I liked, too, the way the tray icon shows the current date, a feature that Easy To-Do could well emulate. Either of these programs will meet the reminder needs of most users. Some will prefer Easy To-Do for its simple but effective approach while others will be won over by Rainlender's optional desktop calendar, impressive interface and powerful features. Firefox and Thunderbird users also have the option of using the free ReminderFox and Mozilla Calendar extensions which together provide similar functionality. They offer the advantage of avoiding the need for running a separate reminder application but at the cost of not having reminders available when Firefox or Thunderbird aren't running.
[1] http://www.xanadutools.com/ Freeware, all Windows versions, 1.2MB.
[2] http://ipi.fi/~rainy/index.php?pn=projects&project=rainlendar Free GPL software, all Windows versions, 948KB
[3] http://reminderfox.mozdev.org/ Free Open Source, requires Firefox and/or Thunderbird
[4] http://www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/ Free, Open Source, available as Firefox and/or Thunderbird extension or in stand- alone form as Sunbird.

2.3 Free Utility Adds Voice Email to Outlook

Waxmail is a free Outlook/Outlook Express plug-in that allows you to send/reply to emails by using MP3 voice file attachments. All you do is click the "Add Waxmail" button, record your message using the simple control panel and the rest is automatic. The free version of the software is full featured but adds a Waxmail advertising link at the bottom of your emails. It's quite discretely done but can be removed by paying $29.95 for the full product. Freeware, requires Outlook 2000 and later or Outlook Express, 1.23MB
http://www.waxmail.biz/

2.4 The Best Free Parental Filter: Part 2

In issue #130 I gave a very positive review of the free parental filter K9 Web Protection by Blue Coat Systems [1]. It's definitely the best free filter I've tried but it has one downside; in order to provide the filtering it uses Blue Coat's web servers which can slow down your browsing a tad. Subscriber Adi Iana wrote in tell me about another free parental filter called Naomi [2] that has the advantage of filtering locally. I tried it out and it's quite impressive. It caught all the offensive sites I tried though occasionally it caught an innocent site as well. Like K9, it's also difficult to disable. I tried the obvious tricks of terminating the Naomi service and deleting the autostart entry without success. Naomi also works with any browser on your system not just Internet Explorer. On the downside, it filters by terminating the browser session without warning whenever a banned site is encountered. I found this a real pain especially when I had several browser tabs open and lost the lot! Naomi is certainly a very capable parental filter but on balance I preferred K9's smarter logic, greater configurability and friendlier behavior. Modem users will however, appreciate Naomi's speed advantage. Freeware, Windows ME and later, 1.3MB
[1] http://www.k9webprotection.com/
[2] http://www.radiance.m6.net/

2.5 New FireFox Backup Extension

A few issues back I mentioned MozBackup, a free program that allows you to back up your critical Firefox and Thunderbird data. Another alternative is BackupFox which backs up all the data in your Firefox profile. It will also backup your Thunderbird profile as well. (395KB)
http://www.extensionsmirror.nl/index.php?showtopic=2953

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

2.6 The Best Free CD Burning Software

Locating quality freeware burning applications for this review proved challenging, even though there are plenty of contenders. My short list included: AVS Disc Creator, burnatonce, Burn to the Brim, CDBurnerXP Pro, CDR Tools Front End, CommandBurner, DeepBurner Free, Easy Burning, Express Burn, and HT Fireman CD/DVD Burner. I was also attracted to two other programs, Burn4Free and Artisan (a.k.a. Sun), but they were packaged with adware and/or spyware and were discarded. Of all the products, the most impressive was CDBurnerXP Pro [1]. It possesses all of the core features you need including an intuitive interface, the ability to author data discs, create audio CDs playable in a regular CD player, create bootable discs, copy discs, and create and burn image files (e.g. ISO). It passed every test I was able to throw at it including adding to a multi-session disc created on another drive with another burning application and creating a functional slip-streamed Windows XP installation CD! In addition to the core features, CDBurnerXP Pro also has a several additional features including: customizable boot disc options (lacking in DeepBurner), integrated cover printing utility, integrated audio player and audio, and the ability to rip audio CDs to various formats including MP3 (with CDDB lookup). Lastly, those familiar with Nero will be right at home as CDBurnerXP's interface is very much like Nero's. All up, CDBurnerXP is a good choice for both basic and advanced users. DeepBurner Free [2] is a close second to CDBurnerXP Pro. If you don't author bootable CDs or care about the additional multimedia features, then DeepBurner Free might be the one for you. It has all of the core functionality, but is a much smaller download package and has a smaller installation footprint. It also offers a portable version that can be run stand-alone from a USB drive. In addition to these products, there are several free burners that are extremely small and specialize in just one or two features. For example, Burrrn [3] is for authoring audio CDs, CreateCD [4] and CommandBurner [5] offer command line burning capabilities, DVDShrink [6] is meant for creating DVD backups, and ImgBrn [7] and ISO Recorder [8] are for burning images to disc with a couple clicks of the mouse. For general users, though, CDBurnerXP Pro or DeepBurner Free are the clear winners. Editor's note: many thanks to regular contributor Craig Vollmar for taking the time to prepare this excellent review.
[1] http://www.cdburnerxp.se/ Windows 98 and later, 11.02 MB
[2] http://www.deepburner.com/ Windows 98 and later, 2.60 MB
[3] http://www.burrrn.net/ Windows 98 and later, 2.02 MB
[4] http://isorecorder.alexfeinman.com/CreateCD.htm Windows XP and 2003, 63 KB
[5] http://www.commandburner.com/ Windows NT and later, 2.71 MB
[6] http://www.dvdshrink.org/ Windows 9x/2000/XP, 1.06 MB
[7] http://www.imgburn.com/ Windows 98 and later, 860 KB
[8] http://isorecorder.alexfeinman.com/isorecorder.htm Windows XP and 2003 (64-bit available), 320 KB

2.7 Outstanding Process Viewer and Startup Manager

Users are blessed with a profusion of free, top class process viewers. Of these, Process Explorer from Sysinternals [1] has long been my favorite but there are many other candidates including PrcView, Nirsoft and the excellent Chinese program IceSword. With such a strong field I was a little shocked to discover yet another outstanding program. It's called "What's Running" [2] and has a number of features that could make it the best choice for a lot of users. First, processes are shown in a tree rather than a list, a representation that makes the parent and child relationship crystal clear. The same view provides process id, the name of the program that started the process and CPU utilization with the display sortable by any of these attributes. If you click on any process you get a wealth of information about that process displayed in a separate panel. Second, What's Running doesn't only show processes; it also displays, in separate tabs, running services, dlls, drivers, IP connections, startup programs and system information. The startup tabs and IP tabs are of particular interest as they are of sufficient quality that you don't need separate dedicated applications to provide this information. So is What's Running better than Process Explorer? For advanced technical users no, but all other users will benefit from the clear, non-confusing display and the fact they get a first class startup manager and IP enumerator in a single product. Thanks to subscriber Nigel Hislop for letting me know about this product. Free beta, Windows 2000 and later, 1.09MB.
[1] http://www.sysinternals.com/ntw2k/freeware/procexp.shtml
[2] http://www.whatsrunning.net/whatsrunning/main.aspx

2.8 How to Send Large Email Files from Your Own PC

Regular contributor Leib Moscovitz recently wrote, "Gizmo I've recently been using a really terrific program for sending large files, called Pando [1]. It's very easy to use and extremely fast, in fact I clocked it against YouSendIt [2] and it was something like 25% faster, not to mention the fact that it works quietly in the background without forcing you to stay on the web page you're currently using, as YouSendIt does. The program is officially only in closed beta although you can download it directly from Softpedia [3] without having to contact Pando directly." Thanks Leib for another great find. Pando works by setting up a server on your PC that allows you to send and receive large files without the size limitations of your email program. Nothing new here but what is new is the slick and hassle-free way Pando does it. To send someone a large file, you just click the Pando tray icon, enter the recipient's email address, drag and drop the files (or folders) you want to send into Pando and then hit "send". This initiates a file transfer to Pando's servers. The recipient will then automatically receive an email telling them about the files you have just sent along with instructions how they can retrieve them. Recipients not using Pando are instructed to download the Pando program and install it. Pando users simply have to click a link to start the download. I tried it with a couple of my friends and it worked flawlessly and fast. I particularly liked the way a recipient can start downloading before the uploading is complete; a real time saver for very large files. On the downside there is little integration with email clients, it requires both the sender and user to be using Pando and files only remain on the server for 14 days. I also wonder about the security risk of having a server running on your PC. Those reservations aside, it's a great solution to a common problem. Free beta, Windows 2000 and later or OS X V10+, 2MB.
[1] http://www.pando.com
[2] http://www.yousendit.com
[3] http://www.softpedia.com/get/Internet/E-mail/E-mail-Clients/Pando.shtml

Got some favorite utilities to suggest? Send them to supporters@techsupportalert.com

3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES

3.1 Microsoft Security

Microsoft's March 2006 patch release [1] was unusually light. There were only two updates with only one rated "critical", covering a serious vulnerability in MS Office 2000 and later that could allow remote code execution. These updates will be automatically distributed by Windows Update Service. Users who do not have automatic updates enabled should visit the Windows Update service [2] now.
[1] http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=63209
[2] http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 Microsoft Antispyware Beta 2 Tests

Last month I mentioned the release of the latest beta version of Microsoft's free anti-spyware program, Windows Defender [1], and said I'd have some test results for you this month. Well, testing this thing has proved a pain as it only runs under Windows XP SP2 while all my VMWare test machines are unpatched Windows XP. This means I've had to build a new VMWare test environment and re-run tests on all anti-spyware products in that environment. I'm only about a third of the way through this huge job but early results suggest Windows Defender may provide the best protection against spyware of any of the free anti- spyware programs but falls behind the top commercial products such as WebRoot SpySweeper. These results are preliminary and I may have to eat my words when I complete the tests. Free beta software, Windows 2000 SP4, Windows XP SP2, 4.3 MB
[1] http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/default.mspx

3.3 Running Some Apps as a Limited User from an Admin Account

Running as a Windows limited user is a very effective way of increasing your internet security but it's often impractical. In this interesting article Mark Russinovich from Sysinternals shows how to run your browser and other internet apps with limited rights while retaining full administrator rights for other programs.
http://www.sysinternals.com/blog/2006/03/running-as-limited-user-easy-way.html

3.4 uTorrent V1.5 Released

I've never seen any software product develop faster than uTorrent. Equally amazingly, each new release seems to work well without major new bugs being introduced. Sure says something about the developers. The latest V1.5 adds dozens of new features including Peer Exchange (IR peers only) and Protocol Encryption that will work with what's planned for Azureus. Additionally, the product has been tweaked for better transfer speeds. The program size has blown out though; it now takes up a massive 154KB! Yes folks, that's kilobytes. Truly amazing. Freeware, Windows 95 (with Winsock2) and later, 154KB
http://www.utorrent.com/

4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 The Ten Best Watches for Geeks

I liked the Suunto X9 GPS Watch best. It's includes a 12-channel GPS and shows altitude, vertical speed, temperature, sea level pressure, absolute pressure, weather trend graph, bearing, graphic compass rose, bearing tracking and more. Not sure that it tells the time though. ;>) Naturally, being a geek watch there's a PC interface cable and software. The street price is around $699.
http://www.productdose.com/2006/03/07/top-10-geek-watches/

4.2 How to Put Your DVDs on a Video iPod

Wired magazine shows how to do it using free software.
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.03/start.html?pg=15

4.3 Make Your Own CD Cases from Paper

Thanks to subscriber Andrew Seward for letting me know about this site that shows you how to make a paper CD case rather than use a plastic one. Better still, the site allows you to print the case complete with the Album title and tracks. If you want to use a plastic case you can optionally print just the cover insert. However, the killer feature is the ability to import an iTunes Playlist.
http://www.papercdcase.com/

4.4 Customized Internet Radio Only Plays Songs You Like

The Music Genome Project set for itself the objective of working out how to identify in music, the elements common to different musical tastes and genres. They have now applied this knowledge to create a streaming music radio service that delivers music to your PC that claims to be personalized to your particular personal taste. Initially you have to define your preferences by stating favorite artists and songs. As songs get delivered you can then refine your choices by stating what you like and what you don't. It all works quite well but be aware it will quickly eat up your broadband bandwidth allowance. It's a free service supported by advertising, though you can elect to pay for an ad- free service. Thanks to regular contributor Mikel Peters for letting me know about this.
http://pandora.com

4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department

I've got two diversions for you this month. First, an online puzzle [1] that is rather more challenging than you might think. The second is a great rag doll simulation [2] that uses a George Bush figure rather than the attractive bikini clad gal used in the simulation I mentioned a few issues back. Sorry George, I like the chic in the bikini best.

[1] http://www.planarity.net/game.php
[2] http://www.planetdan.net/pics/misc/georgie.htm

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.6 Dozens of Free Games

This is a personal selection of the best free games from the Gnomes' Lair. Most are familiar but there are some excellent freebies I've never seen before. The games I tried were all spyware free but I haven't checked them all.
http://gnomeslair.blogspot.com/2006/02/our-freshly-hand-picked-free-games.html

4.7 How to Shuffle and Cut a Deck of Cards One-Handed

We've all seen slick dudes do this in the movies. This article shows how, with a bit of practice, you can do it yourself.
http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2005/9/13/21115/6544

4.8 How to Download Music Files in Lossless Format

Sick of paying for your music downloads in compressed, low quality formats? For a slight premium you can download them in Windows Lossless Format that will give you genuine CD quality when replaying. The cost from this site is around $1.29 a track. Note, too, that the download file size will be considerably larger than an equivalent MP3 file.
http://www.musicgiants.com/

5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Use Windows Update with Firefox

Most folks know that the Windows Update site won't work correctly with Firefox. You can get around this by using Internet Explorer (IE) when visiting the Windows Update site but there are some better options.

The simplest option is to start up Internet Explorer from within Firefox by using either the IETab [1] or IEView [2] extensions.

IETab sets up an IE session within a separate Firefox tab while IEView opens IE in a separate window. Both work well and both save you the trouble of having to leave Firefox to start up Internet Explorer. Note that these extensions are still using IE but are doing so in a more convenient way.

There is another option that doesn't use IE at all. This to use the third party WindizUpdate web site [3]. It's a free service for Firefox users that pretty well duplicates the function of the Windows Update site but without ActiveX and Windows Genuine Advantage hassles.

To use the site you'll need to download an extension that scans your PC to determine the updates you need. Initially this gave me some privacy concerns but I quickly managed to satisfy myself that it was kosher.

Once you have the WindizUpdate plug-in installed the updating process works pretty much like the Windows Update site itself with separate suggestions for critical updates, other Windows updates and hardware updates. Downloading and installing the suggested updates proved effortless.

Apparently there can be a time delay between the time updates appear on the Windows Update sites and when they available from WindizUpdate. However, when I tested the service in late February, I found all the Microsoft February patches were available.

Overall, highly recommended for Firefox users.

A footnote: Recently I had my hopes raised for an even better solution when I got an email from subscriber 'TinnyTim' (sic) who enthused over " ... a great GreaseMonkey script written by Rafael Rivera that allows Firefox users to access all Microsoft sites." Nice find TinnyTim, but the script only defeats Windows Genuine Advantage validation and doesn't help Firefox handle the ActiveX scripting that's integral to the Windows Update operation.

[1] http://ietab.mozdev.org/
[2] http://ieview.mozdev.org/
[3] http://windizupdate.com/
[4] http://extended64.com/blogs/rafael/archive/2005/07/27/1026.aspx

6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 A New Way to Delete Un-deletable Files

Every Windows user has encountered the annoying situation where they try to delete a file and Windows says it can't be deleted because it's "in use by another program or person," or something similar.

There are lots of ways around this but many folks, me included, have chosen to use a free utility called MoveOnBoot that deletes the file or folder on the next reboot.

But I've just discovered a better utility called Unlocker that will try to free up the locked file (or folder) without rebooting.

I say "try" because Unlocker can't always release the file in which case a reboot may still be required. However, it works most of the time and this is a huge convenience.

Unlocker works as an explorer shell extension. To release a locked file you just right click on the file and select Unlocker from the context menu. Unlocker will then guide you through the rest of the process.

You can optionally install an assistant that will automatically popup the Unlocker dialog when you try to delete or rename a locked file. I advise against this; who really wants another program running on your PC when all it saves you is a single right click?

Unlocker does a great job; in two weeks of use it performed flawlessly. It takes about 5-10 seconds to work but this sure beats rebooting your PC.

Free for private and commercial use though donations are encouraged, Windows 2000 and later, 182KB.

http://ccollomb.free.fr/unlocker/

** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **

6.2 How to Decrypt Protected iTunes Songs

Recently subscriber Travis Carden wrote, "Hey Gizmo, I thought I'd turn you on to a free tool called JHymn [1] for decrypting iTunes protected AAC files for use with alternate media players or portable MP3 devices ... you should check it out."

Well, I did check it out and it certainly offers a very effective freeware solution. Here's what the site says: "You buy some new music through iTunes, you run JHymn, hopefully do no more than click one or two buttons and when you quit JHymn and go back to iTunes, all of your DRM-protected music has been seamlessly replaced by unlocked, DRM-free music with the same sound quality as your original purchases, music which is virtually indistinguishable from music that you rip from your own CDs. If you had set up playlists which had included protected songs, the unprotected versions of those songs would now be in those same playlists, in the same play order."

I tried it and it works, though not quite as simply as the above description would have you believe. To start with, it doesn't work with iTunes V6 so I had to uninstall V6 and install V5 following the instructions on the JHymn site [2]. That accomplished, using JHymn to decrypt protected AAC files proved to be reasonably straight-forward.

Once my test files were decrypted I immediately re-installed iTunes V6 because I like the podcast features only available in V6. If you have a second PC you could leave a copy of V5 running on that machine and save yourself a bit of hassle.

The decrypted files are standard unprotected AAC files of the same quality as the DRM protected originals. They can be played on your iPod, iTunes or any device that supports AAC format. They can also be ripped to MP3 though there will be a small audio quality loss in the conversion.

There are clearly legal and moral concerns here. I suspect many folks would argue that if they pay for a song, it's "fair use" that they should be able to listen to it on whatever device they choose. It's something you as an individual have to think about, though, and there's plenty of material on the JHymn site to help you make up your mind.

Whatever, I suspect JHymn is the answer to the prayers of many iTunes users.

Free, open source software, Windows and Mac OS X (tested with Windows XP though it may be compatible with earlier versions), 588KB

[1] http://hymn-project.org/.
[2] http://hymn-project.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1314

Got some top sites and services to suggest? Send them in to supporters@techsupportalert.com

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See you next issue

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com