IN THIS PREMIUM ISSUE:
0. EDITORIAL: Are security programs up to the task?
Yesterday morning I was in my kitchen reading the Saturday newspaper while casually relaxing with a cup of coffee.
Then a headline just jumped off the page.
"Rootkits on the Rampage" it read.
I quickly read the article. It was the usual sensationalist stuff: hospital computers rendered useless, pensioners' life savings stolen and worse.
But behind the hype there was an element of truth in the story. Rootkits are becoming more common. However, what the tabloid story didn't mention is the fact that rootkits are not only becoming more common; they are also becoming much more sophisticated. Furthermore they are only part of a much greater problem of ever-escalating malware sophistication and the increasing prevalence of blended threats.
A blended threat is the malevolent equivalent of a layered defense. Such threats use multiple means to defeat your computer security programs. They consist of bundles of different products and different techniques acting together to enhance the potency of the payload products.
Hiding a spyware program by a rootkit is a simple example of a blended malware threat but they come much more sophisticated than that.
Recently I encountered one that used three different retro routines to try to pull down my anti-malware and anti-rootkit defenses. It then installed a rootkit to mask a trojan downloader and then forced a system reboot. On reboot the stealthed trojan downloader then downloaded two different keyloggers one of which was further stealthed with another quite different rootkit. When the keyloggers phoned home with their payload of captured keystrokes they tried to bypass my Kerio firewall using an obscure vulnerability in that product.
In this particular case there were no obvious signs of infection. No blatantly obvious browser toolbars or popup ads. The folks who produced this nasty wanted the product to remain undiscovered.
Worse still, the rootkit stealthing meant that many security programs would report the infected computer as malware free even though every keystroke I made was being recorded and uploaded to a foreign site.
Thankfully, there are some rootkit detectors such as IceSword and Sysinternals' Rootkit Revealer that can still pick even the cleverest rootkits currently in use.
Thankfully, too, many security programs are well hardened against attack by retro routines. Kaspersky AV and NOD32 are examples and there are quite a few others as well.
But quite a few security programs are not up to the task of defending against modern blended threats. An example is the popular SpyBot Search and Destroy anti-spyware program. It can't detect rootkits and can be pulled down with ease. The equally popular Ad-aware fares little better. And you can add to these a whole lot more.
These programs were great in their day but the rapid escalation of spyware sophistication has left them trailing behind. Sure they will still pick up many malevolent programs but frankly they are just not up to the task of detecting the latest generation of threats.
So what are we to do?
I can see two ways forward: The first is to reduce your chance of infection. The second is to only use the best security products available.
These are not exclusive choices; both should be pursued.
Neither path is easy but both can be navigated.
Next month I'll start a multi-part series of articles to show you how. It will pull together all the material I've covered over the last year on layered security protection and safe browsing into a set of specific recommendations how to protect your computer.
Furthermore I'm going to tell you the security programs I've tested that cut the mustard and those that don't. I know this won't make me any friends in the industry but frankly the computer security situation has become so serious that it's time for some straight talking.
See you next month.
1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 Major Update for the 46 Best-Ever Freeware Utilities
another update, the biggest ever, so if you haven't checked
the list for a while, now is the time. I've also added an index
at the top so you can find things quickly though I still think
you'll get the most out of the list by browsing it at leisure.
The Best-Ever freeware list is an important source of new
subscribers to this newsletter and these in turn help secure the
newsletter's survival. Here I'd really like your help. Please
tell everybody you know about the list; post it to any forums or
user groups and you belong to, mention it in your publications.
Indeed, tell everybody and anybody. If you can post it to Digg,
SlashDot, Furl, Delicious, the LangaList, LockerGnome and other
popular spots that would be really great. If you can do any of
these things I'd consider it a real favor. Let me know if you
do, I'd love to hear.
1.2 New Additions to the "Extended List" of freebies
"Extended List" consists of my latest freeware discoveries
that are reserved just for subscribers to this newsletter. I've
just added eight new items, updated many more and added an index
at the top as well. Remember to bookmark the page as I don't
publish the link elsewhere. May I request you don't publicly
post this link?
1.3 New Name for This Newsletter
Thanks to the thousands who voted for the new name for this newsletter. The clear winner was "GizmoGold." I won't be making the change until later this year as there is a lot of behind-the- scenes work that has to be done but I'll let you know well in advance. Thanks to Jenny O'Neill from Orange County, L.A. who actually suggested the name. Jenny has landed the big prize I offered while five other subscribers who suggested the name after Jenny will each get a lifetime free subscription to the premium SE edition. Thanks guys.
1.4 Which Browser is the Fastest?
long felt that Opera 9 and K-Meleon were the two fastest
browsers that I've used but this was purely subjective. At this
site they put 24 Windows browsers to the test and the clear
winner for speed is Opera. Well behind are IE 6 and Firefox, who
overall perform rather similarly. Most of the browsers that use
the IE shell such as Maxthon actually run a little slower than
IE itself. Interesting stuff.
1.5 New Google Services
has announced new additions to its seemingly never ending
product array. Perhaps the most interesting is Google Trends 
which adds a trend timeline to Google Zeitgeist. It looks very
useful for research. Try a search on "spyware, spam" and you'll
see what I mean. Also of note is Google Co-op  which allows
users to subscribe to third party services that provide
annotations to Google search results. For example, I subscribed
to the Digg service so now when I search I see Digg listings for
that search term at the top of the Google search results page.
Also new is a Widget service  similar to Yahoo's
Konfabulator. It's available as part of an upgraded Google
1.6 The Best Online To-Do Lists
this comparative review  they look at Bla Bla, Ta-da,
Tudu, Remember The Milk and Voo2Do. I've found the to-do
feature at BackPack  to meet my needs better than any of them
even though it's part of a web calendar rather than a dedicated
to-do service. As ever, your mileage may vary.
1.7 Free Programs That Run From Your USB Flash Drive
list from SnapFiles  including quite a few five star
rated utilities. If you want more, try the other two links ,
1.8 One Thousand Free Icons, Free Favicon Service
is quite special; a free set of 1000 beautiful 16 by 16
icons. Every programmer and web developer should grab these
little gems now . Good too, for webmasters looking for
favicons for their site. If you want to create your own favicon
try the second link . I used this service to create the "46"
favicon now used at techsupportalert.com
1.9 Windows Command Line Reference Site
the best of site of its kind I've seen. Everyone who
visits this site will learn something useful, I certainly did. A
** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **
1.10 Free Online Storage Services
Mark Repp writes, "Gizmo I want to let you know about
a great online storage site called Streamload. It's got more
space available for free storage than almost any other site of
its kind, and for a small monthly or yearly fee, you can share
huge files with anyone and download much more: gigs and gigs of
data. 100MB can be downloaded per month for free, and over 25
gig stored on their server for free. How's that for amazing?"
Amazing indeed when you think how quickly this market sector has
evolved. There used to be two kinds of services: those geared
toward backup/storage and those geared toward file sharing.
Lately though, services like Streamload have opened to provide
both public and private space. Other strong contenders are
OrbitFiles  and Box .
1.11 The Importance of Naming Your Drives Correctly
naming your drives can be of critical importance when
you have to restore from backup as your drive letters can get
changed from their normal values. This can make it really hard
to determine which drive is which. Subscriber Grover Hatcher has
written an excellent guide explaining the situation and offers
some good advice for alternative naming schemes.
1.12 How to Backup Outlook and Outlook Express
tutorial covering the most common versions of Outlook. It
shows you how to restore from backup as well.
some top sites to suggest? Send them to
2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Free Utilities That Record Streaming Media
of just watching streamed videos and audio tracks but not
being able to save them? So are many other folks and this
demand has given rise to nearly a dozen utilities that will
record them to your PC. The bad news is that the best products
in this category are shareware not freeware with Replay Video
and RM Recorder the standout choices. There are, however,
several solid, if not outstanding, freeware choices. The easiest
to use is StreamBox VCR . It handles many major video and
audio formats including MS and RealMedia though support for
QuickTime and the latest formats is limited. It also can't
handle more than 5 simultaneous streams. The Japanese program
GetASFStream  handles virtually all MS video and audio
streaming protocols with ease. There's a catch though: there's
no English translation! Thankfully, usage is dead simple; once
you have installed the product just paste the streaming file URL
into the products address box and hit enter. You can find a
machine translation of the Japanese FAQ here . Another option
is SDP, a free video player  that allows you to save most
streamed MS video protocols except RTSP. The later format will
be handled in the next release. Be aware, though, that there
are media rights issues with a lot of streamed broadcasts, so be
prudent in what you chose to record.
2.2 Free Excel Add-in Monitors Your Stocks
is "a free Excel add-in application that allows you to get,
monitor and analyze stock quotes and live market data directly
in Excel." For a freebie it's surprisingly sophisticated. It
allows you to set up your own portfolio, create watch lists and
set up quite sophisticated alerts. For each stock you can report
a huge array of statistics from simple P/E through to departures
from various moving averages. You can also track market gainers
and losers and fast moving stocks. All your personal information
is held on your own PC rather than a server and nothing is
transmitted back to Tikr. On the minus side, the company
reserves the right to include advertising at a future date but
that would seem like a small price to pay for such a slick
product. I don't currently play the market but if I did I'd be
using Tikr. Thanks to subscriber Satyendra Dhingra for letting
me know about this one. Freeware, Windows 2000 and later with
Excel 2000 and later, 3.7MB.
2.3 Help for Carpal Tunnel and RSI Sufferers
contributor A.K. recently wrote, "Gizmo, I've got a
recommendation for laptop touchpad users with carpal tunnel
woes. Using my touchpad for now even a short period of time
causes wrist discomfort and nerve problems, especially in my
right ring finger. There are several Firefox extensions
designed to minimize mouse use. Of all these, the one I would
currently recommend is Mouseless Browsing . Mouseless
Browsing has plenty of help both in its Mozilla add-ons page and
in the developer's website and allows configurable shortcuts.
It enables easy mouseless/touchpadless scrolling, moving back-
and-forth in history, moving to the tab of your choice and
selecting text boxes. Given that it is only in version 0.4.1
Beta, this already well-done extension shows much promise. Some
current negatives: first, because keyboard numbers (or "ids")
need to be assigned next to each link, pages with many links/ids
load up noticeably slower. Second, there is no current support
for bookmarks, no shortcut to open a new tab nor a shortcut to
close a specific tab. Third, a very rare number of sites may
have their top menus scrambled although, by using a configurable
shortcut, you can quickly and temporarily disable Mouseless
Browsing for those sites." Thanks A.K. for the excellent
suggestion to help overcome a common problem. If any subscribers
are aware of other solutions to work around RSI and Carpel
Tunnel problems please email me  and I'll mention your
suggestion(s) in a future issue.
2.4 Simple Way to Scan Photo Prints
Bill Roberts writes, "Gizmo, a friend wanted to scan
a number of old 4x6 prints into her PC as digital images. She
was trying to use the difficult software that came with her
multifunction printer/scanner and asked me for help. Knowing she
had MS Office, I suggested she use MS PhotoEditor but was
surprised to find that utility was not available in Office 2003
and has been replaced by Photo Management software that is
useless to her for that job. With a bit of Googling I was able
to find a download site  for the old MS PhotoEditor. The
result is a small, standalone program perfect for her level of
expertise. Now she can easily scan, crop, and 'Save As' where
SHE wants to, in the format of choice (jpg)! No installation is
required and it's easy to make a shortcut on the desktop to the
'exe' file. I hope this may be helpful to someone else in that
position." Nice find Bill. It's a very good example of two
different tech principles: first, new versions of software are
not always better and second, small, specialized utilities will
usually do the job more efficiently than large multi-function
2.5 Add Process Information to Windows Task Manager
users know that they can find out what programs are
currently running on their PC by hitting Ctrl+Alt+Del and
bringing up the Windows Task Manager. That's the simple bit;
making sense of the processes listed can be tough going. The
utility company Uniblue has just released a free program called
Quick Access Infobar  that allows users to click on any
process shown in the Windows Task Manager and get an explanation
of what that process actually does along with an assessment of
its security status. The information is displayed in your
browser using data from Uniblue's online Process Library
Database. I tried it out and it works well. The information
provided is clear and useful though the online database has
quite a few plugs for Uniblue's products. Also a number of
processes related to some of the obscure utilities I use on my
PC were not listed in the database. You can of course also
access the Uniblue Process Library without installing Quick
Access Infobar by simply surfing to the Uniblue site  or
similar sites  and looking up the process. Still, many
average users will appreciate the convenience of a single click
lookup provided by Quick Access. Freeware, Windows 98 and later,
** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **
2.6 Free Utility Keeps Track of Project Hours Worked
subscriber Richard Steinitz wrote in asking, "Gizmo,
is there some sort of program which can time your work? I have
to do a job which is charged by the hour, and it is all on the
computer. I'd like some little thingy that sits in the corner of
my screen that I can start and stop as I work." Well, Richard
was in luck as I'd just been researching this area and was able
to suggest "Project Timer ." It's truly basic; not much more
than a series of glorified stopwatches but it's simple to use
and does exactly the task Richard wanted. If you bill out your
time to multiple projects I suspect you'll find this little
program to be very handy. Of course, it won't bill out your
slack time to your paying clients; you need human creativity for
that. ;>) Freeware, all Windows versions, 312KB
2.7 ICal Calendar for Windows
really - it's a clone and a work in progress at that. But
hey, it's free. Requires the Microsoft .NET framework to be
installed. Freeware, 208KB.
2.8 How to Automate Your CD Ripping
review of free CD rippers in issue 129  prompted regular
contributor Craig Vollmar to write, "Gizmo, I agree totally with
your ripper recommendations but would like to add one more
product, Riptastic!. Riptastic!  has a "Batch Ripping Mode"
feature that truly differentiates it from all other rippers. In
this mode Riptastic! will automatically cycle through all of the
CD/DVD drives in the computer and rip each disc. This feature,
paired with multiple CD changer drives  allows nearly an
unlimited number of discs to be ripped in an unattended fashion.
This enables you to rip CDs while you are sleeping or at work!
In addition to the Batch Ripping Mode feature, Riptastic! is an
excellent general CD ripper with multiple audio format support,
Internet CDDB support, flexible encoding and file naming
options, impressive ripping speeds, advanced audio processing
features, and more! Riptastic! does cost $19.95, but it is
truly worth every penny, especially if you have a need for the
batch ripping feature." Nice suggestion, Craig. I don't have a
multi CD changer so I couldn't try the batch mode feature but I
must say that Riptastic! performed very well in straight
ripping, though no better than the free rippers I mentioned in
my original review . However, I do agree the batch mode will
certainly appeal to many users. The author offers a full
featured trial version good for 300 minutes of ripping so you
can try before you buy. Shareware, $19.95, all Windows versions,
some favorite utilities to suggest? Send them to
3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
Another bad month for Microsoft. In addition to the identification of two new unpatched flaws in Internet Explorer (see item 3.2) it turns out that three of the five updates released on "patch Tuesday" April 11, created serious problems for users.
MS06-016 created major problems for some Outlook Express users who found they couldn't open their address books. The patch has since been corrected and re-distributed as part of an out-of- course series of releases distributed via Microsoft Update on the 25th of April.
MS06-015 broke some specific applications including Hewlett Packard's Share-to-Web software, nVidia shell extension GUID's, Kerio Personal Firewall, Roxio DragToDisc / Adaptec DirectCD shell extension and SolidWorks 3D CAD products shell extension. Again the patch has since been updated and re-distributed through the Windows Update service.
The third patch, MS06-013, a massive Internet Explorer update, created problems with some web sites. This is not really Microsoft's fault; they had given webmasters many months warning of the proposed changes and can't be held to blame for their inaction. This though, was cold comfort for surfers who suddenly found they couldn't use some of their favorite sites.
The out-of-course series of updates released on the 25th of April to patch the April 11 patches has in itself become a source of controversy as it surreptitiously included a new version of Windows Genuine Advantage that takes a much tougher approach to non genuine versions of Windows. Hmmm and we thought the Windows Update service was only for critical security updates.
Microsoft's May "Patch Tuesday"  produced only two critical rated patches. The first covers a flaw in Exchange Server 2000 and Exchange Server 2003 and is not relevant to workstations and home PCs. The second covers a known problem with older versions of Adobe/Macromedia Flash. This flaw was fixed in March by Adobe but the Microsoft patch prevents the flaw being exploited in computers still running Flash versions 126.96.36.199 and older. That's fine but the best solution is to ensure you are running the latest Flash version. You can upgrade to the latest version from the Adobe site .
Windows updates are distributed automatically by Microsoft
Update Service. Users who do not have automatic updates enabled
should visit the Update Service  now.
3.2 More Unpatched Flaws in Internet Explorer
days after MS released the massive April cumulative
Internet Explorer update, security specialist Michal Zalewski
discovered a serious flaw in IE involving the way the browser
handles nested OBJECT tags in web pages. A specially crafted
web page could be used by attackers to crash the browser and
potentially compromise the PC. Rated "Extremely Serious" by
security firm Secunia, it even affects fully patched IE 6
versions running under Windows XP SP2. While investigating the
flaw Secunia researchers discovered another flaw that's equally
serious. No work-arounds are available but MS is working on
patches. Until these are available, users should be cautious
about visiting fringe web sites or use another browser.
3.3 Another Firefox Security Release
updated version 188.8.131.52 of the Firefox browser has been
released to address a newly discovered flaw  that could cause
a system crash or potentially allow a security compromise. The
patch is proactive; no instances of malicious exploitation have
been reported. Users of V1.5x will have the updated version
automatically downloaded via the update service. All other users
should download the latest version from the Mozilla site .
3.4 GriSoft Buys Ewido, Intel Invests in GriSoft
Czech security company GriSoft, makers of the popular AVG
Anti-Virus scanner, has acquired anti-malware vendor Ewido
Networks . According to GriSoft, Ewido's products, including
the popular free version of its anti-trojan scanner, would be
continued and further developed. Indeed a beta of a new version
4, has just been released . Within weeks of the Ewido deal,
Intel announced the purchase of a $16 million stake in GriSoft
along with investment company Capital and Enterprise Investors
who have paid $26 million. . Looks like the smart money
thinks Ewido is a good deal. I agree.
4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 How to Automatically Download Your Favorite TV Programs
its' quite easy as there's a free open source program
called Ted that's designed just for this task. It combines with
your BitTorrent client to allow automatic downloads of all
episodes of your chosen programs. Of course you may be violating
copyright laws just like when you record a TV program to
videotape. But hey, you've never done that have you?
4.2 Get All Your Web Info from One Site
good news for those who aren't yet into RSS. At this site
you can read the latest feeds from Digg, Del.icious, Furl,
Youtube, Fark, Slashdot, Wired and more. It's a lot to digest
but it's convenient to have it all in one spot. Thanks to
subscriber David Shortman for the suggestion.
4.3 Fix Your iPod Yourself
pay money when you can probably fix it yourself by using the
free guides at this site?
4.4 Stunning Sidewalk Drawings
yawn at the idea. I'm not talking about yet another Mona
Lisa reproduction but stunning, original 3D trompe d'oiel
works. Truly amazing.
4.5 Install windows XP on a USB Flash Drive
this site you can get details how to install a full Windows
XP installation on your thumb drive. The drive has to be at
least 1GB but that's no problem these days. To see the
instructions click the "Tutorial" tag at the top of the screen.
Be aware that this site runs slow.
4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department
successfully managed to waste an entire hour at this
fascinating site  which allowed me simulate road traffic flow
in a variety of situations. Actually, it provided an answer to a
lot of traffic questions about which I'd long wondered. OK, OK,
I am a geek but at least I admit it. If simulation doesn't
interest you try this riddle site . It's not for kids but for
kids-at-heart and is well worth a visit. If you need yet another
pointless diversion then visit this Soduku site . Now that's
another geek thing; I don't find doing Soduku puzzles at all
interesting but I find the algorithms for solving them
fascinating. Hmmm, maybe I am a worry.
** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **
4.7 Convert Your Photos into ASCII
this site you can upload a photo and have it converted into
an image made up of letters and characters. It's a free service
too. Great for T shirts.
4.8 Good Collection of Computer Jokes
of laughs here but I particularly liked the "Tao of
4.9 Lots of Free Print Utilities
listing of around 20 free utilities that cover everything from
printing screen shots to printing checks.
4.10 Free Utility Identifies Which of Your Programs Need Updating
worried that some of programs on your PC may have security
flaws and need updating with the latest versions? RadarSync is
a free program designed to answer this question. It catalogs all
the programs on your PC along with version numbers and then
compares them to an online database of over 80,000 programs. I
tried it and it worked like a charm. The scan is free but if you
want updates automatically downloaded you'll have to pay $28.95
per year. Alternatively, just go to the original vendor's
website and download the updates for free. :>) Windows 98 and
5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Re-organize the Windows Start Menu
In issue #127 I showed how you can use the Quick Launch Toolbar to reduce the number of icons on your desktop.
It was a simple technique that entailed the creation of categorized folders in the Toolbar and then moving desktop icons into the appropriate folders.
Using the technique you can dramatically reduce the number of icons on your desktop thus making everything quicker to find.
You can apply a similar technique to the Windows Start Menu.
Many users have very long start menus, often with dozens of items in the "All Programs" listing. Some can be so long they even run off the screen.
This needn't be so; it's reasonably simple to organize the "All Programs" section of the Start Menu into your own category folders. Here's how:
Right-click on the Start Menu then click Explore. This will open Windows Explorer within the start menu folder for the current user. If you then click "Programs" on the left hand pane you should see all the programs for the current user listed in your Start Menu.
These names are, for the most part, in one big list. What we want to do is create some category folders then move individual programs into those folders.
The categories you create are up to you. I created three: security, maintenance and utilities. These are the same categories I use for my Quick Launch Menu. Keeping them the same makes my filing consistent.
To create the folders, right click in the any white space in the right hand Explorer pane and select New/Folder. Name your folder appropriately, for example "Security."
Then just drag and drop the appropriate programs into the folder you have created. In my case I moved NOD32, Ewido, SpySweeper and seven other programs into the "Security" folder.
Repeat this procedure for other category folders you want to create. That completes the job for the Start Menu for the current user.
At this stage you may have noticed that some of the programs listed when you hit "All Programs" from the Windows Start Menu are missing from the start menu folder. That's because these programs have been installed for all users not just the current user.
To locate these programs, navigate using the left hand Windows Explorer pane to the start menu folder listed under "All Users." Repeat the procedure of creating folders and moving programs making sure you create the exact same folder names as you did for the current user start menu folder.
When completed, click the Windows Start Menu button in the lower left hand side of your screen and you will see all your new category folders at the end of the All Programs list. Click any folder and you'll see the programs you moved to each folder.
It's a good idea to move these category folders to the top of your Start Menu. You can do this simply by dragging and dropping the folders from within the "All Programs" listing.
You may also want to change the folder icons to something a bit different to the other folders in your "All Programs" list. You can do this by right-clicking on each category folder and selecting Properties / Customize / Change icon, then selecting your icon and pressing Apply.
In the end you'll end up with a Start Menu "All Programs" listing with far fewer items together with a series of category folders. Finding programs using this system is way quicker than selecting from a long list.
If sorting out your Start Menu this way sounds a little daunting, don't worry; there's a free utility that will do it for you more simply. It's called Tidy Start Menu and you can get it here:
a free and a paid version but the free will do the job
just fine. The main restriction in the free version is that the
categories folders are pre-defined rather than user selectable.
You can, however, just access the Start Menu folder using the
method above and re-name the categories to whatever you want.
But hey, I didn't tell you that did I?
6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 Best Free File Manager
My long time recommendation has been xplorer²  however I've been using another product called XYPlorer  for the last few weeks and have concluded that it may be even better.
It's not a two pane manager like xplorer² but rather uses a tabbed view which is both more flexible and more powerful. It's packed with features such as batch rename, address bar search, a filter that takes wildcards, colored visual filters, multiple views and a highly configurable and extremely useful "new items" menu. Its killer feature though is the file search which just has to be one of the most powerful in the business and it's really fast, too.
When you start using the product you'll discover lots of additional hidden gems like the ability to copy a directory tree structure without the files or the ability to print a directory. Indeed, after a month of use I'm still discovering new features and usage tricks.
XYPlorer is clearly aimed to meet the needs of advanced users and succeeds brilliantly. Xplorer² however is still a better choice for average users who will be overwhelmed by XYPlorer's power.
XYPlorer was free but on the 21 March 2006 it morphed to shareware. However, the last free version is still available from the vendor's site  and various freeware sites .
 http://zabkat.com/x2lite.htm All Windows versions, Free for
private use, 867KB
** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **
6.2 The Best Free Backup Program
spent the last two weeks trying to locate a decent free
data backup program as part of a major makeover of my site www.backup-software-reviews.com. For some time I've wanted to
It's been a pretty depressing experience. It's hard to find decent commercial backup programs let alone free ones. Most products have glaring deficiencies, the most common being difficulty of use and lack of CD/DVD support.
Difficulty of use is a real deal-breaker for me. If a product doesn't allow an average user to easily set up an effective backup then as far as I'm concerned it's pretty well useless.
Let me explain why by example. Most users want to backup their email but have no idea where on their computer their email is stored. Good backup programs provide check boxes for "back up my Outlook mail" and similar options for other popular email clients. The same comment applies to backing up bookmarks or the Windows Registry. Again, most users simply don't know where these files are located. Well designed backup programs understand this and make it easy by providing check boxes.
But most backup programs are not well designed. They require the user to specify the exact location of files to be backed up and most users don't know where they are located. It's just dumb.
Of the 14 free products I looked at I've only found one program that I feel happy to recommend to average users. It's actually an older version of a current commercial product. The vendor is offering the older version for free with the hope users might later upgrade to the newest version. However, the old program is good enough that most users probably won't need to.
The program is WinBackup V1.86 from Uniblue Systems. It's a pretty good backup program by any standards: it's got a Wizard to help users setup their backups and another to initiate a recovery. It has handy check boxes for commonly backed up items and a lot of flexibility for adding specific data sets to those standard items. It can back up to any drive recognized by Windows including network drives and will backup to a FTP server as well. Most importantly it will backup to CD/DVD without the need for third party packet driver software. It supports compression and encryption and provides backup data validation as well. It has a built in scheduler that runs backups automatically. The feature list goes on and on.
"Well," you may ask, "what's wrong with it?"
A few things. First, it backs up in a proprietary format which means you can't read the data without having a copy of WinBackup on hand. This won't worry many users but I find it an annoyance.
Second, it had trouble reading deeply nested directory structures. Worse still, it reacts to the problem by just hanging which necessitates a system reboot. Many users just won't have data nested so deep as to cause a problem but be aware it can happen.
Third, it occasionally missed a scheduled backup. I'm still not sure why. Indeed, it may be a problem specific to my setup. But again, be aware of the potential.
are a few other minor issues but I'll leave that to my
full review over at
Reservations aside, WinBackup V1.86 gets my top recommendation as the best free data backup program available. It's not up to the standard of the best commercial products but will still meet the needs of many average users.
Windows 98 and later, 4.2MB
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