Gizmo Richards Support Alert Newsletter - Premium SE Edition

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

Premium SE Edition,  Issue 133
18th May, 2006

IN THIS PREMIUM ISSUE:

0. EDITORIAL: Are security programs up to the task?

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 Major Update for the 46 Best-Ever Freeware Utilities
1.2 New Additions to the "Extended List" of Freebies
1.3 New Name for This Newsletter
1.4 Which Browser is the Fastest?
1.5 New Google Services
1.6 The Best Online To-Do Lists
1.7 Free Programs That Run From Your USB Flash Drive
1.8 One Thousand Free Icons, Free Favicon Service
1.9 Windows Command Line Reference Site
1.10 Free Online Storage Services (SE Edition)
1.11 The Importance of Naming Your Drives Correctly (SE Edition)
1.12 How to Backup Outlook and Outlook Express (SE Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Free Utilities That Record Streaming Media
2.2 Free Excel Add-in Monitors Your Stocks
2.3 Help for Carpal Tunnel and RSI Sufferers
2.4 Simple Way to Scan Photo Prints
2.5 Add Process Information to Windows Task Manager
2.6 Free Utility Keeps Track of Project Hours Worked (SE Edition)
2.7 ICal Calendar for Windows (SE Edition)
2.8 How to Automate Your CD Ripping (SE Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 More Unpatched Flaws in Internet Explorer
3.3 Another Firefox Security Release
3.4 GriSoft Buys Ewido, Intel Invests in GriSoft
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 How to Automatically Download Your Favorite TV Programs
4.2 Get All Your Web Info from One Site
4.3 Fix Your iPod Yourself
4.4 Stunning Sidewalk Drawings
4.5 Install windows XP on a USB Flash Drive
4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.7 Convert Your Photos into ASCII (SE Edition)
4.8 Good Collection of Computer Jokes
4.9 Lots of Free Print Utilities (SE Edition)
4.10 Free Utility Identifies Which of Your Programs Need Updating (SE)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Re-organize the Windows Start Menu
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 Best Free File Manager
6.2 The Best Free Backup Program (SE Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION
0.0 EDITORIAL

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.

Gizmo
supporters@techsupportalert.com

1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 Major Update for the 46 Best-Ever Freeware Utilities

Yes, 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.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm

1.2 New Additions to the "Extended List" of freebies

The "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?
http://www.techsupportalert.com/more/extended.htm

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?

I've 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.
http://www.howtocreate.co.uk/browserSpeed.html#winspeed

1.5 New Google Services

Google has announced new additions to its seemingly never ending product array. Perhaps the most interesting is Google Trends [1] 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 [2] 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 [3] similar to Yahoo's Konfabulator. It's available as part of an upgraded Google Desktop V4.
[1] http://www.google.com/trends
[2] http://www.google.com/coop
[3] http://desktop.google.com

1.6 The Best Online To-Do Lists

In this comparative review [1] they look at Bla Bla, Ta-da, Tudu, Remember The Milk and Voo2Do. I've found the to-do feature at BackPack [2] 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] http://www.techcrunch.com/2006/05/08/do-more-online-to-do-lists-compared/
[2] http://www.backpackit.com/

1.7 Free Programs That Run From Your USB Flash Drive

Nice list from SnapFiles [1] including quite a few five star rated utilities. If you want more, try the other two links [2], [3].
[1] http://www.snapfiles.com/features/ed_usb_software.html
[2] http://portableapps.com/
[3] http://www.portablefreeware.com/

1.8 One Thousand Free Icons, Free Favicon Service

This is quite special; a free set of 1000 beautiful 16 by 16 icons. Every programmer and web developer should grab these little gems now [1]. Good too, for webmasters looking for favicons for their site. If you want to create your own favicon try the second link [2]. I used this service to create the "46" favicon now used at techsupportalert.com
[1] http://www.famfamfam.com/
[2] http://www.htmlkit.com/services/favicon/

1.9 Windows Command Line Reference Site

Simply the best of site of its kind I've seen. Everyone who visits this site will learn something useful, I certainly did. A gem.
http://commandwindows.com/

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

1.10 Free Online Storage Services

Subscriber 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 [2] and Box [3].
[1] http://www.streamload.com
[2] http://www.orbitfiles.com/
[3] http://box.net/

1.11 The Importance of Naming Your Drives Correctly

Properly 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.
http://206.128.27.80/name-drv/index.htm

1.12 How to Backup Outlook and Outlook Express

Good tutorial covering the most common versions of Outlook. It shows you how to restore from backup as well.
http://www.sitedeveloper.ws/tutorials/outlook.htm

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

2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 Free Utilities That Record Streaming Media

Sick 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 [1]. 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 [2] 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 [3]. Another option is SDP, a free video player [4] 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.
[1] http://p082.ezboard.com/fstreemeboxvcrfrm7.showMessage?topicID=27.topic
[2] http://www.urltrim.com/ct/t.php?l=77 Freeware, 697KB
[3] http://tinyurl.com/fwvzq
[4] http://sdp.ppona.com/ Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 2.77MB

2.2 Free Excel Add-in Monitors Your Stocks

Tikr 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.
http://www.etikr.com

2.3 Help for Carpal Tunnel and RSI Sufferers

Regular 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 [1]. 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 [2] and I'll mention your suggestion(s) in a future issue.
[1] http://www.rudolf-noe.de/MouselessBrowsing.htm
[2] editor@techsupporalert.com

2.4 Simple Way to Scan Photo Prints

Subscriber 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 [1] 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 suites. (825KB)
[1] http://www.weboffice.uwa.edu.au/help/help/__data/page/53450/microphotoed.exe

2.5 Add Process Information to Windows Task Manager

Most 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 [1] 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 [2] or similar sites [3] 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, 316KB.
[1] http://www.processlibrary.com/quickaccess/
[2] http://www.processlibrary.com/
[3] http://www.neuber.com/taskmanager/process/index.html

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

2.6 Free Utility Keeps Track of Project Hours Worked

Recently, 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 [1]." 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
[1] http://pc.revivalteam.de/index.php?site=timer

2.7 ICal Calendar for Windows

Not 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.
http://www.monocalendar.com/

2.8 How to Automate Your CD Ripping

My review of free CD rippers in issue 129 [1] 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! [2] 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 [3] 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 [1]. 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, 3.3MB.
[1] http://techsupportalert.com/issues/issue129.htm#Section_6.2
[2] http://www.riptastic.com
[3] http://www.riptastic.com/nakamichi.htm

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

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" [1] 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 8.0.22.0 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 [2].

All Windows updates are distributed automatically by Microsoft Update Service. Users who do not have automatic updates enabled should visit the Update Service [3] now.
[1] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms06-May.mspx
[2] http://www.macromedia.com/devnet/security/security_zone/apsb06-03.html
[3] http://update.microsoft.com (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 More Unpatched Flaws in Internet Explorer

Just 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.
http://secunia.com/advisories/19762/

3.3 Another Firefox Security Release

An updated version 1.5.0.3 of the Firefox browser has been released to address a newly discovered flaw [1] 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 [2].
[1] http://www.mozilla.org/security/announce/2006/mfsa2006-30.html
[2] http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/

3.4 GriSoft Buys Ewido, Intel Invests in GriSoft

The Czech security company GriSoft, makers of the popular AVG Anti-Virus scanner, has acquired anti-malware vendor Ewido Networks [1]. 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 [2]. 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. [3]. Looks like the smart money thinks Ewido is a good deal. I agree.
[1] http://www.ewido.net/en/press/20060419a/
[2] http://www.ewido.net/en/
[3] http://www.grisoft.com/doc/314/lng/us/tpl/tpl01

4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 How to Automatically Download Your Favorite TV Programs

Actually 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?
http://www.urltrim.com/ct/t.php?l=81

4.2 Get All Your Web Info from One Site

Here's 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.
http://popurls.com/

4.3 Fix Your iPod Yourself

Why pay money when you can probably fix it yourself by using the free guides at this site?
http://www.methodshop.com/mp3/articles/iPodSupport.shtml

4.4 Stunning Sidewalk Drawings

Don't yawn at the idea. I'm not talking about yet another Mona Lisa reproduction but stunning, original 3D trompe d'oiel works. Truly amazing.
http://www.compfused.com/directlink/1272/

4.5 Install windows XP on a USB Flash Drive

At 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.
http://www.winusb.de/index_en.html

4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department

I successfully managed to waste an entire hour at this fascinating site [1] 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 [2]. 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 [3]. 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.
[1] http://vwisb7.vkw.tu-dresden.de/~treiber/MicroApplet/130406
[2] http://www.onlyriddles.com/
[3] http://www.sudokucraving.com/game.php

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.7 Convert Your Photos into ASCII

At 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.
http://www.typorganism.com/asciiomatic/

4.8 Good Collection of Computer Jokes

Lots of laughs here but I particularly liked the "Tao of programming."
http://www.netfunny.com/rhf/jokes/computer.html

4.9 Lots of Free Print Utilities

A listing of around 20 free utilities that cover everything from printing screen shots to printing checks.
http://freeware.intrastar.net/printing.htm

4.10 Free Utility Identifies Which of Your Programs Need Updating

Ever 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 later, 663KB.
http://www.radarsync.com

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:

http://www.tidystartmenu.com/index.shtml (0.98MB)

There's 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 [1] however I've been using another product called XYPlorer [2] 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 [3] and various freeware sites [4].

[1] http://zabkat.com/x2lite.htm All Windows versions, Free for private use, 867KB
[2] http://www.xyplorer.com
[3] http://www.xyplorer.com/download/xyplorer_full_lfv.zip All Windows versions, Free for private use, 633KB
[4] http://www.pricelesswarehome.org/2006/PL2006FILEUTILITIES.php#FileManager

** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **

6.2 The Best Free Backup Program

I've 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
offer some free alternatives to the commercial data backup programs listed at that site so I've been scouring the web for candidates.

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.

There are a few other minor issues but I'll leave that to my full review over at
www.backup-software-reviews.com.

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.

Freeware, Windows 98 and later, 4.2MB
http://www.backupanswers.com/freewinbackup/

7.0 MANAGE YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

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Support Alert is a registered online serial publication ISSN 1448-7020. Content of this newsletter is (c) Copyright TechSupportAlert.com, 2006

See you next issue

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com