IN THIS PREMIUM ISSUE:
0. EDITORIAL: Free Virtualization Software Get the Nod1.1 New Name for this Newsletter2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
Last month's editorial on safe surfing drew a big response from subscribers. In particular, folks just raved about Sandboxie, the free utility that allows you to safely surf the net in a virtual layer on your PC.
Colin Drew's email was typical: "Gizmo, it's just like you said. This Sandboxie thing has changed my whole attitude to surfing. I'm no longer afraid where I go on the web or paranoid about downloading and trying out new stuff."
For those who missed last month's issue, Sandboxie is a freeware utility for users of Windows 2000 and later that creates a special contained "sandbox" environment on your PC. While browsing within the virtual sandbox provided by Sandboxie you are totally corralled off from 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 any other part of your PC.
A number of products offer similar capabilities to Sandboxie but the feature that distinguishes it from most of these is that it can be launched right from your desktop with no re-booting. That's a really big plus.
Usage is remarkably simple. To start a sandboxed browsing session you just click the Sandboxie icon in from the Quick Launch tray and this will launch your default browser in the sandbox. You can then use it in the normal way to browse to sites or download files.
If you run a downloaded file it will install normally but again will be corralled off from your real PC. Any files it writes to your hard drive, any changes to the Windows Registry or changes to the Windows startup will be held in a separate area within the sandbox. Similarly, any new processes running in your computer memory will be sandboxed.
After you have finished browsing you can right click the Sandboxie icon and delete all sandboxed files and processes and your PC will be returned to the exact same state it was in before the browsing session.
The advantage is clear: any spyware, trojans, keyloggers or other malware products that infected your PC while browsing will be eliminated.
It's an attractive idea and I can see why so many subscribers have been so enthusiastic about Sandboxie.
Now, with all you folks putting such faith in the product I feel I need to say a little more about Sandboxie and to answer a few questions.
First, how safe is Sandboxie?
I've done some more testing with Sandboxie to see how well it isolates your "real" PC from infection. These were tough tests involving visits to drive-by download sites that utilized Windows flaws to install up to 50MB of particularly nasty malware. Additionally, I installed a number of rootkit-disguised spyware programs, two keyloggers and a RAT trojan as well.
I'm happy to say Sandboxie provided full protection. Once I stopped all sandboxed processes and erased all sandboxed files, there were no active malware products left on my PC.
I'm not saying that Sandboxie provides 100% total protection; no single security product can provide that. What I can say from my testing is that Sandboxie provides a level of protection so high that you can use it with full confidence.
Even if you use Sandboxie for all your browsing you still need other security software installed on your PC: an antivirus scanner, an anti spyware scanner, a firewall and more. As I said, no security product is perfect, Sandboxie included. That's why you need several layers of defense just in case Sandboxie fails.
A second question I need to clarify about Sandboxie is its privacy.
Because Sandboxie erases all traces of a browsing session, it's clearly a good way of enhancing your privacy. Any record of the sites you visited and any files you downloaded will be erased.
Well, not quite. While all sandboxed files may have been deleted they could be undeleted by a skilled operator in the same way any deleted file on your PC may be recovered.
This may not be likely but it's quite possible. If you want to truly erase deleted Sandboxie material then you should clean your hard drive "unused" space after browsing using a forensic level file deleter such as the open source program "Eraser."
But even that won't guarantee complete privacy. There may be records of your browsing session at your ISP, your company's server and at the sites you visited.
This privacy risk is very small but can be reduced by using a free anonymizing service like Tor or Jap while browsing with Sandboxie. Reduced yes, but eliminated, no. Nothing you do on the Internet should ever be considered absolutely 100% private and confidential. Yes, the risk of disclosure is minute, but never engage in any internet activity based on the assumption that they can never be found out by a law enforcement authority or other agency with privileged access.
See you next month.
1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 New Name for This Newsletter
thanks to the 2000+ subscribers who wrote in with
suggestions for a new name. There were so many clever
suggestions that I was yet again reminded of the enormous
collective intelligence of my subscribers. Folks, I feel humbled
in your presence. Thanks. Of the thousands of suggestions, there
was near unanimous agreement that the new name must mention
"Gizmo." Bearing that in mind, I've selected a list of
finalists and registered the domain names. Unfortunately, some
of the best names had to be excluded as their domain names were
taken. Now may I ask a favor? Could you please vote for the name
you prefer most? You can vote just by clicking the name you like best. As a thank-you, everyone who votes will
get access to a great freebie that I've just discovered and
didn't have time to include in this issue.
1.2 Google Launches Calendar, Acquires Writely
has officially launched Google Calendar , a free Ajax-
powered web calendar application. It's a fast, searchable, multi-
calendar with reminder capabilities that allows users to store
and share appointments. It's tightly integrated with GMail and
can import data from Yahoo Calendar and Microsoft Outlook. One
of the most interesting features is the smart text recognition
that allows automatic event classification based on your text
descriptions. For example, if you typed in, "have lunch with
Gizmo at 12.30 at Cafe Roma," it would be automatically
classified in the event database without the need for manual
selection. Your calendars can be optionally shared with
nominated users via RSS and reminders can be sent via SMS.
During the month, Google also announced that it had acquired the
outstanding Ajax-based web word processor called Writely .
Between this, the web Calendar, GMail and Google Chat it's clear
the much speculated-on Google free web-based application suite
is starting to take shape.
1.3 Promising Anonymizing Network
 is an initiative to provide a fully distributed and self
organizing anonymous P2P network. "I2P is designed to allow
peers using I2P to communicate with each other anonymously
both sender and recipient are unidentifiable to each other as
well as to third parties." It allows for anonymous web hosting
within I2P and anonymous proxy access to sites outside I2P. It
also supports BitTorrent file sharing. This is a complex product
so I suggest you start with the noob's guide . Also of
interest is the web page  comparing various anonymizing
systems such as Tor and Jap.
1.4 FireFox Tips
of useful hints including information I've not seen
1.5 Advanced Google
can do much more than search. For example to convert 150
Euros to US dollars just type in "150 Euros in USD." To see
some of Google's other amazing capabilities check out this cheat
1.6 Video How-To Site
'Hopper' writes: "Gizmo, here's another great site
for just about anything to do with video. This is a very
extensive site with sections on guides, tools, hardware, media
and more. It's one of the first sites I check when trying to
find a guide or special tool for a specific job." Nice find,
Hopper. This site is just packed with useful information.
1.7 Good List of Portable Applications
has an excellent categorized list of programs that
don't require installing and thus can be used on your USB Flash
1.8 Lots of Clever Free Utilities
Donation Coder site is offering hundreds of free utilities
all full-featured with no nag screens. They use a novel
licensing system: you have to register to get a free license key
which allows you to download any number of programs on the site.
This key lasts six months after which you must return to the
site to download another free license key. After a year you are
given a permanent license. Alternatively, you can make a once-up
donation of any size and get a permanent key straight away. It's
a clever and ethical way to encourage users to recognize the
work done by freeware authors and I support it fully. The
quality of the utility programs offered is very high and a
number are unique in what they do. Highly recommended.
** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **
1.9 Hot Prices for Computer Cabling
months item on making your own network cables prompted
subscriber Tony Ozark to write in about the cheap cabling
available from the Computer Network Associates site. Nice find
Tony, the cabling prices are very sharp and there are lots of
other reasonably prices computer hardware goodies as well.
1.10 The Final Solution to Computer Cooling Problems
guess we now need a final solution to the PC noise problem :>)
1.11 The Dangers of Public Proxy Servers
article is from a commercial proxy site and thus slanted to
encourage you to use their service but the advice is
fundamentally sound. As I keep on telling folks, using an open
proxy can be a Faustian bargain. In attempting to gain surfing
privacy, you may in fact, lose all of it.
1.12 Useful Windows Run Command Cheat Sheet
Windows functions that can be carried out through the
normal GUI interface can also be accessed via the command line
interface. Additionally, some functions can ONLY be accessed
through the command line. This site lists 99 command line
programs covering both categories.
some top sites to suggest? Send them to
2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 The Best Free Notes Organizer
is designed to help you organize all those random bits
of information hanging around your PC: bookmarks, articles, bits
of text, interesting web links, shopping lists, to-do lists,
recipes, tips, etc. It's a common problem but a difficult one to
solve as the information is so disparate. Some folks have tried
to solve the problem by using free form databases while others
use beefed up text editors or multi-media snippet managers.
Evernote approaches the problem by allowing you to store your
notes on an endless "roll" of virtual paper. You can create
notes on the roll, drag and drop them or cut and paste them.
Images can be stored as well as text. You can access the stored
information several different ways: by searching for keywords,
by using a category classification such as "recipes", by the
date it was created or any combination of these. Toolbars for
Internet Explorer and Firefox allow web site information to be
highlighted and moved directly to Evernote together with a
hyperlink back to the web site. A similar capability is provided
for Outlook email. Sure, all this sounds nice but does it work?
I evaluated Evernote for a month by using it to collect
information for this newsletter. In this demanding task, I
found it effective in doing the job and to work just about as
well as anything else I've tried including Microsoft's OneNote.
It's got a few annoying weaknesses though. If you move an email
message to another folder after you have posted the information
to Evernote, it loses the link. This is a fatal flaw for me as I
only have two mail folders - my inbox for unread mail and the
deleted folder for everything else - so everything gets moved
after I've read it. Additionally, the category system is weak.
What is needed is the ability to assign tags not categories and
to be able to search using those tags in the same manner as you
can at del.icio.us and similar sites. That said, Evernote is an
outstanding free product and will provide many folks with an
excellent solution to note, snippet and general information
management problems. Tablet computer users may want to check out
the $34.95 "Plus" version that also handles hand-written notes.
Freeware, Windows 2000 and later, 8.4MB
2.2 The Best Free Virtual Desktop Manager
review was prepared by regular contributor A.K. "I looked
at a whole batch of free VDMs including VirtuaWin , Microdesk
, Dexpot  and Virtual Desktop Toolbox . VirtuaWin is a
competent but basic product that depends on third-party modules
for extra features but unfortunately there aren't many around.
Microdesk comes with more standard features such as 99 desktops,
configurability of each desktop (name, password, wallpaper and
icons), an attractive interface and a configurable transparent
menu above the tray bar to navigate between desktops. However,
there is no detailed FAQ and no forum. Dexpot allows even more
configurability for each of its 20 possible desktops with its
well-organized interface and enables easy switching between
desktops and quick movement of windows. However, the online
documentation is very incomplete and the most active section of
the online forum is in German. Virtual Desktop Toolbox is loaded
with features which the other three lack. The negative is that
it takes a little longer to learn. However, the pain is eased by
the very thorough user's guide and tips and tricks folder
included in the installation and also available online , .
Note that to unlock some time and feature restrictions to
Virtual Desktop Toolbox's evaluation version you need to take
out a free registration. The four VDMs I reviewed are all very
capable products but I recommend Virtual Desktop Toolbox because
of its outstanding features list and excellent support. Once you
have learned how to use it you will improve your organization
and productivity, perhaps drastically so."
2.3 Display Outlook Calendar and Folder Tasks on Desktop
is a free utility that extracts your calendar and to-do
information from Outlook and displays it on your desktop where
it's easy to see. The partly transparent display is very
attractively done and covers information for the coming week.
DeskTask doesn't require Outlook to be running. Highly
recommended. While at the site check out another of their free
products called Find Favorites, a neat little favorites search
engine. Freeware, Outlook 2000 and later, 446KB
2.4 The Best Free Duplicate File Detector
must confess that I'm not a great fan of the practice of
routinely deleting duplicate files from PCs. Sure it can free up
some disk space but it can also get inexperienced users into a
great deal of trouble. There are quite a few duplicate file
detection utilities around but CloneSpy is the one that
impresses me the most. It's certainly not the fastest program in
its class but it's definitely the smartest. First, you can
specifically select what is to be scanned and this can include
multiple drives, multiple folders or just individual folders.
Second, it has the ability to detect duplicates by CRC, by file
name, by CRC and file name and by file name and size. Third, it
will also detect zero length files. Fourth, the program does not
need to be installed but can be run from the executable so it's
a good candidate for your USB Flash drive toolkit. Finally, it
throws up duplicates to the user in a way that at least makes
you think about what you are deleting. Click-happy users may
find this latter feature an annoyance; to me it's a safety
feature. Safety feature or not, please read the help file and
use with care. In particular do NOT include your Windows folder
in your scan unless you are a knowledgeable technical user.
Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 608KB.
2.5 Gizmo Stands Corrected
the March issue I incorrectly stated that the free MozBackup
extension was no longer being developed. This is not the case;
in fact, a new version is currently being prepared. I could
claim this error was due to over-work, not enough sleep or even
extra-terrestrials planting strange thoughts in my mind. The
reality is I simply goofed.
** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **
2.6 Best Free Outlook Express Backup Utility
title has been held for some time by Majik's excellent
OEBackup, however I've been really impressed by PicoBackup
Outlook Express Edition. It's tad more complex to use than
OEBackup but offers many more features including integrated
CD/DVD burning, disk spanning, encryption, ZIP compression and
the ability to backup multiple users. Freeware, Windows 98 and
2.7 Slick Reminder Program Impresses
been looking at a lot of free reminder programs lately but
must admit that I've been very impressed by a shareware product
called Cute Reminder . Don't be put off by the kitsch name;
this is a well thought through and beautifully executed product.
Using an inconspicuous docking bar it allows you to easily
create three different types of objects: reminders, notes and
ideas. Reminders are alarmed while notes are not. Ideas are
notes that pop up after a few days to get your creative juices
flowing. The docking bar also gives immediate access to a
control panel that features a sliding three month calendar and a
week-long daily view. The real killer feature of this product is
that it works exactly the way you want; way better than any
other product in this class. This degree of usability is rare in
software products and a delight to see. On the downside, this is
a specialist reminder program and not well suited to those who
need to manage to-do lists. If that's your need then check out
the free utility Rainlender I mentioned in the March issue.
However if you are currently using a sticky notes program then
do try out Cute Reminder, it could be just what you are looking
for. Shareware, $29.95, 30-day trial available, Windows 98 and
2.8 The Best Free Audio Editing Utility
Brandon Tanner writes: "Gizmo, I know you recommend
Audacity  for audio editing. It's a great product but you
should check out Kristal; I think it might have Audacity's
number! To start with, Kristal has an ASIO driver while Audacity
doesn't. That means that you can monitor your pre-recorded
tracks in real-time while you're overdubbing new ones, mandatory
when multi-track recording. You can't do that in Audacity as the
latency is too high. Second, Kristal supports VST plug-ins.
There are tons of quality VST effects and instruments floating
around the net, a lot of them free. Audacity's effects are....
err ummm... not quite up to par with some of the better VST
ones. Not to bash Audacity but I have to give credit where
credit's due. Third, Kristal has a 'proper' multi-track mixer,
with a lot more options for routing individual tracks, effects,
etc. Don't get me wrong, I like Audacity and I think it's a good
program as long as your needs are basic. But Kristal definitely
has more 'pro' features." Great suggestion, Brandon. Kristal is
based on a 32-bit floating point audio engine that can handle
sample rates of 44 to 192 kHz with word sizes of 16, 24 or 32
bit. It comes with a three band parametric EQ and supports WAVE,
AIFF, FLAC, OGG Vorbis file formats. It can only handle a
maximum of 16 audio tracks, though the web site mentions an
upcoming version 2 that will handle more tracks as well as
support for MIDI, virtual instruments, and a wider range of VST
plugins. Like all media editing programs, Kristal requires a
modern fast PC. Don't even think about using it with a sub 1Ghz
machine. Free for personal use, Win 98/ME with IE6, Win2K, XP,
3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
Patch Tuesday yielded five new security updates from Microsoft including three rated as critical. MS also released an update to a previously issued patch, MS06-005. This too was rated as "critical."
The new critical patches all cover very serious, widespread flaws that could allow a user's computer to be taken over by an attacker. They include a massive update to Internet Explorer for Win2K SP4 and later that fixes 10 separate vulnerabilities including the infamous Internet Explorer HTML createTextRange() flaw - see next item.
Also included in this IE update is a patch in the way IE interacts with certain ActiveX controls embedded in some web pages. Such web pages will no longer work normally once the IE patch has been applied. For example, a QuickTime or Flash animation may no longer start automatically but require manual interaction. This change has been foreshadowed by MS since late last year but it's very likely that some webmasters haven't yet updated their sites. In other words, expect to experience some surfing problems. If these changes impact you seriously it is possible to turn them off until June 2006 using a "compatibility patch" that was released along with the IE update. According to MS the compatibility patch will "temporarily return Internet Explorer to the previous functionality for handling ActiveX controls."
The two other critical updates cover a serious flaw in the Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) function that affects Windows PCs from Win98 onwards, and a problem with Windows Explorer in Win2K and later related to the way it handles COM objects.
updates will be automatically distributed by Microsoft
Update Service. Users who do not have automatic updates enabled
should visit the Update Service  now.
3.2 More Security Woes for Internet Explorer
the month, a serious new flaw was discovered in Internet
Explorer and within days of the announcement hostile sites were
using the exploit to infect visitor's PCs. The flaw related to
the way Internet Explorer handled Web pages that contain non-
standard calls to HTML objects using the createTextRange()
method. According to MS , "System memory may be corrupted in
such a way that an attacker could execute arbitrary code."
Somewhat unusually, MS quickly acknowledged the flaw but still
got users offside by stating that a fix would not be released
until the next patch cycle due out on the 11th of April. In the
interim they suggested all IE users turn off active scripting or
switch to the IE7 beta which was not affected. Thankfully, a
couple unofficial patches  were released by third parties.
Following the incident numerous reports have been received of
Firefox and Opera users admitted to hospital suffering from the
effects of excessive laughter while some unconfirmed sources
indicate possible fatalities in the Mac community from the same
3.3 New Version of Firefox Available
users shouldn't really be laughing too loudly as a new
version of Firefox V1.5.02 has just been released packed with
security fixes. Firefox supporters could, however, quite
properly observe that these are pro-active fixes to cover
possible future exploits as opposed to the recent IE fixes which
simply patched exploits that were already in wide circulation.
Whatever the politics, you should update your Firefox version
now. Existing V1.5 users should have had the update delivered
automatically, while other users can do so from the Firefox site.
3.4 New Version of CCleaner Released
latest V1.27 release of this top rated file cleaning program
adds Windows Hotfix uninstaller deletion along with cleaning for
AVG, TUGZip and AntiVir and the Google Toolbar. Also new is a
secure file deletion option. CCleaner is now my first choice for
removing unwanted files and from my hard drive but I do have
some reservations. First, I still think its default settings are
a little too aggressive, so check them before you use it for the
first time. Second, I wouldn't use this program to clean up your
registry; this is too critical a task to leave to a general
purpose cleaner. Instead, use a dedicated registry cleaner like
EasyCleaner or JV16. Third, the latest version will install the
Yahoo Toolbar by default so remember to uncheck it during the
install process. Finally, CCleaner still isn't as good at
finding temp files as Empty Temp Folders so I suggest you use
both programs. Why not, they are both free.
3.5 Free Virtualization Software for Servers
readers know I'm a great fan of VMWare's $169
workstation virtualization software. The good news is that you
can now get the latest beta of the server version  for free.
As the press release says, "With the new beta release of VMWare
Server, VMWare takes hosted server virtualization to the next
level with advanced features such as two-way Virtual SMP and
support for Intel VT and 64-bit operating systems. Use VMWare
Server to instantly provision a wide variety of free plug-and-
play virtual appliances." Microsoft has responded by also making
its $199 Virtual Server R2  free!
3.6 Top Keyboard and Mouse Sharing Utility Updated
never understood why folks spend good money on expensive
KVM boxes in order to switch their keyboard between computers
when they can achieve much the same result using the free open
source package called Synergy. It uses your network to switch
between multiple PCs by sensing the cursor position on your
monitor screen. In my case I just use my mouse to push the
cursor to the top of my laptop screen and the cursor
mysteriously appears on the screen of my desktop PC monitor
which sits above my laptop. When the cursor is showing on the
desktop monitor my laptop keyboard is connected to desktop PC.
To return to my laptop I just slide the cursor down to the
bottom of the desktop monitor and it re-appears on my laptop
screen and re-connects the laptop keyboard to my laptop. It's
all so seamless that it verges on the miraculous. It's really
boosts my personal productivity by allowing me to work on two
PCs simultaneously without ever worrying about switching
keyboards. Synergy is cross platform and handles multiple
machines so you could, if you wish, connect several Linux, Mac
and Windows machines together using different screen edges. A
new version of Synergy V1.3.1 has just been released and is now
available from the web site. Free, Open Source, Windows 95 and
later, Mac OS X 10.2+, Unix, 924KB.
3.7 Trojan Hunter V4.5 Now Available
new version of the top rated anti-trojan program Trojan Hunter
 is now available for download. The upgrade is free though
existing registered users will need to apply for a new license
file . The main new feature of V4.5 is the provision of
incremental updates for the signature file which means that
users no longer have to download the full file every time. There
have also been some additional enhancements that make the
product more attractive to trial users. First, trial users can
now run Live Update to update their rules file. Second, you can
start a new trial using the current version even if your 30-day
trial period with an old version has expired. I suggest all
users download a trial version of V4.5 and scan their PC. It
won't cost you a cent and you never know what you may find. If
you are not familiar with Trojan Hunter you can check out my
review here .
4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Free 512MB Flash Drive
is currently offering a 512MB USB drive for $30 with a
$30 rebate and is throwing in a $10 Mother's Day gift voucher
from ProFlowers as well. It looks like the day when you get
free USB flash drives with your box of cornflakes is fast
approaching. Note: these special offers come and go. If it's
gone by the time you read this newsletter there is no point
writing to me complaining as I can't do anything about it.
4.2 How to Reset Your BIOS Password
good tips here, though reading the centered text used on
this site could lead to insanity.
4.3 Threat to Your Internet Privacy
folks have the Macromedia Flash Player installed in their
PC but are unaware that it can be a real risk their privacy. For
example, Flash's Shared Object technology may allow your
browsing to be tracked without cookies. This risk is greatest
with older Flash versions but even the latest version is not
watertight. I suggest all users make sure they have the latest
upgrade  and change their Flash security settings to ensure
that Flash at least asks for permission before storing
information. Full instructions can be found at the Macromedia
4.4 Free Education Programs for Children
recently had an email from Marianne Wartoft about a site she
has created featuring educational freeware for children. I
checked it out and it looks terrific. As for the quality
programs featured, I can't say but they certainly look engaging.
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
away your boss's money with these 57 Optical illusions
. They are all intriguing but this one at this site  is
quite special. At this third illusion site  you'll find a
good explanation why the room you just painted doesn't look
quite the way you expected.
** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **
4.6 Free Computer Games Galore
site claims, "The Definitive Guide to the Best New Games on
the Web." A strong statement indeed but at least they are
nicely sorted by game category. I downloaded three and they were
spyware-free but I can't vouch for the other 98.
4.7 How to Improve Your Intellect and How to Zap It
month the folks at the IBM research center put together a
little logical puzzle  for folks to solve. If you are one of
the first 100 to solve it, you get your name in lights on the
web site. Just the thing for wakening a few brain cells. Once
you've woken those cells, put them to sleep again with these Zen
Koans . Koans are short stories or puzzles that cannot be
understood or solved from a logical perspective. They are
designed to defeat or quell rational thinking in order to free
the mind. The classic example is, "what is the sound of one hand
4.8 More Ways to Speed Up Your BitTorrent Downloads
covered this in issue #129. Here's another take on the same
5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 An Easier Way to Run Programs with Reduced Rights
Most Windows users operate as a user with full administrator rights. It's the default Windows setup option so it's what most people use whether they are aware of it or not.
Having full administrator rights gives the user the highest level of privilege possible. It means that Windows will allow a user to pretty well do anything they want on their PC. That includes installing any program they choose, even programs that change the way the operating system works.
This is convenient for the user but is the source of many of Windows security problems. Many malware programs including rootkits require administrator privileges to install. If users operated with reduced rights such programs couldn't as easily infect their PCs.
On other operating systems such as Linux and Mac OS X, users normally run with reduced rights. It's one of the reasons why such systems have a better security record.
The more recent versions of Windows do in fact allow users to be assigned to different user groups with different privileges. In order of reducing privilege these are: "administrator", "power user" group, "user" group and "guest". However, most folks, me included, find that operating as anything other than an administrator is a pain in the butt. Many programs, for example, won't install correctly. Others install but don't function properly.
You can work your way around this by having two user accounts on your PC: one with full administrator rights and the other with reduced rights. You sign on as the reduced rights user for normal PC use and then logout and use the administrator rights user account for program installation, registry editing and other demanding tasks.
It sounds fine but I can assure you that constantly switching users or logging in and out of these accounts is a pain in the butt as well.
Another approach is to always operate as a reduced privilege user and use the special Windows "run as" function from the command window or context menu when you needed to run a program that requires administrator privileges. It's a slightly more workable solution but not exactly convenient as you need to enter your admin account password every time. It's also unsuited to non-technical users.
Recently, subscriber Erik Wasberg wrote in to tell me about a third option. It too is for experienced users but it's more convenient than using Run As.
It involves the use of an Open Source utility called RunAsAdmin Explorer Shim. Let's call it RES.
RES is a Windows XP program that allows you to sign-in as an administrator but work within a Windows shell with reduced rights.
It works by placing an icon in the system notification area of your tray. Clicking this icon brings up a menu that allows you to run programs with several different level of trust from "administrator" through to "user."
This means that you can do your normal day-to-day work in a restricted rights shell but easily run any program that requires elevated privileges without the need to logoff or enter your admin password. You have the advantage of safety and convenience at the same time.
It's a neat idea, so neat that you wonder why it wasn't built into Windows XP.
There's not a lot of documentation for RES, barely enough to work out how to install the program and use it. There are also two versions available: a stable V1 release and a V2 beta. I installed the latter and it's working fine though I it took a few setting changes and reboots to get everything working perfectly. It's definitely not a task for the faint hearted or technically challenged but neither is using "run as."
To un-install RES start up a command window with admin rights and enter the command c:\Windows\Shim\Explorer.exe /r
Logoff as the current user and when you re-login, you'll have the usual rights for that user account. You can then delete the c:\Windows\Shim\Explorer.exe folder.
Non technical users will have to wait for the arrival of Windows Vista to get a satisfactory solution to the user rights problem. Vista promises to have a much more sophisticated system for managing user privileges than XP. If it delivers, we can all look forward to safer computing. Then again Windows XP was supposed to be the "safest Windows ever." ;>)
user accounts with reduced privileges
6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 Novel Program Launcher Delivers the Goods
Look at any user's desktop and there's a good chance you will see it littered with shortcuts to commonly used programs. That's fine but if you have too many it can take quite a while to find what you want.
Many folks address this problem by using an application launcher. Commonly these employ a dockable toolbar containing shortcuts to various programs on the PC. The toolbar can usually be hidden so it doesn't take up desktop space.
I've never been keen on these things as often they achieve little more than what's available from the Windows Start menu.
However, I've found an application launcher that actually really works. It's called Find&Run Robot.
It doesn't use a launch bar approach but rather allows you to locate an application by simply typing its name into a query box.
You rarely even have to type the full name; mostly all you need do is just type a couple of letters. Find&Run Robot instantly displays any program that contains the letters you typed in.
Its power lies in the fact that it's lightning fast. It works on a find-as-you-type basis. Let's say I'm looking for Excel. When I type the letter "E" I instantly see all programs whose name contains the letter E. There are quite a few as you can imagine. If I then type in the second letter "X" the list shortens immediately to only those programs that contain "EX". By the time I type in the "C" the list is down to one program, Excel itself. Double clicking then executes the program. The whole thing takes less than 2 seconds.
I've seen a few programs that work like this but Find&Run Robot works the best of any I've tried. To start with, you can bring up the search box instantly using either a hotkey or by clicking the tray icon. Second, the program search area is totally configurable. Even the scoring system that determines the list order is configurable. Third, it's only visible when you need it and that's the way it ought to be.
Users of Microsoft Desktop Search don't need Find&Run Robot as they already have the same capabilities direct from the search box.
Find&Run is free but only available under a rather strange license system, see item 1.8 above for full details.
all Windows versions, 1.57MB
** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **
6.2 Get Top Rated $99 Web Information Organizer for Free
As Editor of this newsletter I'm a prodigious web surfer, blog reader and a heavy user of RSS feeds. I've looked at dozens of products to help me organize all the information but found only one that does exactly what I need.
That product is Onfolio Pro V2. I've used it for almost a year to collect and organize the information for this newsletter. It's one of those rare products that delivers. Every day it saves me time, every day I sing its praises.
At $99 it was excellent value but now you can get it for free as Microsoft has acquired Onfolio  and made the product available as an add-in for Windows Live Toolbar beta .
Many of the outstanding features in the original Onfolio are available in the new free version including the excellent RSS reader and web snippet manager. The user interface is not as slick as the original but hopefully will improve as Windows Live Toolbar moves out of Beta status. Also, oddly enough, Microsoft will not be supporting the Firefox extension. ;>)
To use the free version of Onfolio you will of course have to first install the Windows Live Toolbar beta . Apart from Onfolio the Toolbar will give you desktop search, tabbed browsing in Internet Explorer, phishing and popup filters and a few other bits and pieces. It's not a bad product actually and its only major downside is that the Toolbar uses MSN for web search, rather than Google.
Is it worth installing Windows Live Toolbar just to get Onfolio? Well, if you are an Internet Explorer user and you don't already have a desktop search product, the answer is an emphatic "yes."
Firefox users the situation is less clear. It's your call
but as for me, I'll be sticking with the Google Toolbar, Firefox
and the now stand-alone Onfolio version for as long as it
continues to work.
Got some top sites and services to suggest? Send them in to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
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