Gizmo Richards Support Alert Newsletter - Premium SE Edition "Gizmo's top picks of the best
Tech resources and utilities"
Premium SE Edition,  Issue 142
22nd February, 2007

If you prefer you can read this issue online from the Supporters' Area here:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/supporters/private.htm

0. EDITORIAL: Gizmo's Take on Vista

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES
1.1 Gmail Now Open to All
1.2 Free Security Tools
1.3 The Best Flickr Photo Finder
1.4 Vista Pros and Cons
1.5 Get Vista for Upgrade Price
1.6 Specialist BIOS Site
1.7 How to Improve Your Wi-Fi Security
1.8 Cheap Alternative to Vista (Premium Edition)
1.9 Solving "Safely Remove Hardware" Problems (Premium Edition)
1.10 Selecting the Right Boot Disk (Premium Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite 7 Reviewed
2.2 Free Utility Backs Up Frequently Changed Files
2.3 Add Paste and Go Feature to Firefox
2.4 Free Word Plug-in Allows Reading/Writing of OpenOffice Documents
2.5 Better Manage Windows Startup
2.6 How to Move All Your Programs to a New PC (Premium Edition)
2.7 Anti-malware Scanner for Your USB Flash Drive (Premium Edition)
2.8 Free Business Accounting and CRM Software (Premium Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 Vista Live OneCare Flunks Test
3.3 Get Vista for Free - Includes Free Bonus Trojan!
3.4 The Limitations of McAfee Site Adviser
3.5 Protecting Yourself from Phishing
3.6 Super Bowl Stadium Website Compromised
3.7 Revealing All Your File Extensions? Think Again
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 Free E-Books Galore
4.2 Quantum Computers Now a Reality
4.3 Make Fancy Text Animations
4.4 Support Alert Subscriber Releases His Own CD
4.5 New Open Source Media Players Impress
4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.7 How to Find the Best Blank CDs (Premium Edition)
4.8 The Ultimate Geek Greeting Card (Premium Edition)
4.9 How to Track the Best Deals on the Web (Premium Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Remove the Nag Screen from Diskeeper Lite
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 The Best Free Disk Defragger
6.2 Free Replacement for Adobe Illustrator (Premium Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

0.0 EDITORIAL

So what's my take on Vista?

Simple: I really like it but strongly recommend you don't buy it.

That's no contradiction; it's simply hard headed thinking. Let me explain:

I've been using Vista Ultimate for several weeks on a fast modern PC that's fully Vista compliant. With a fast dual core processor, 2GB of memory and a hot video card it was an ideal rig to get the most out Vista.

I was not disappointed. I hadn't tried any of the Vista betas and came to the released version with high expectations. And most of those expectations were met or exceeded.

Aero, the new Vista visual theme, is breathtaking. It's really beautiful and a delight to use. The new User Access Control system is a huge step forward in security. The diagnostic tools provided are excellent, a big improvement over XP, and I loved all the little tricky ways of doing things that I just keep on discovering.

I could go on about its virtues but I won't.

Suffice to say that on a modern machine Vista is a big step forward over XP. A step so big that you wouldn't want to go back.

So why do I recommend you don't buy it?

First, your PC is probably not up to the standard needed to run Vista in terms of memory, processing power, video performance and, quite possibly, disk space.

Second, it's highly likely that at least some of the programs you use won't work with Vista.

Third, you will get it anyway the next time you purchase a PC.

You can test how compatible your hardware and software is with Vista by running Microsoft's Vista Upgrade Advisor utility on your PC. You can get it here:

http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/buyorupgrade/upgradeadvisor.mspx

I used it to test the five PCs in my office. Only one was hardware compliant and none were fully software compliant.

Sure I could upgrade the hardware on the four non-compliant PCs. However, all are over two years old and in need of replacement not upgrading so why waste the money?

And yes I could remove the non compliant software and substitute other programs. But the software I use is carefully chosen so why would I deliberately choose to replace it with something inferior? The more so when you consider that the software vendors will almost certainly release Vista compatible versions in the coming months.

This reasoning that applies to my computers will also apply to most users.

For most users, Windows Vista should not be seen as an upgrade option but rather a new computer option. The next computer you buy will come with Vista, it will have hardware designed for Vista and software that works with it. By then most of your current application software will have been updated to work with Vista as well.

So folks, ignore the hype and save your pennies for your next PC rather than contributing to Bill Gates.

One thing I can say for sure. When you try Vista on your new PC you are going to love it.

See you next month.

Gizmo
supporters@techsupportalert.com

1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 Gmail Now Open to All

After three years of invitation-only membership Gmail [1], Google's class-leading free email service, is now open to everyone world-wide. Gmail offers pretty well everything offered by other webmail services and more, including 2.8GB of storage, fast email search and free pop email access. Even if you are wedded to pop mail try using Gmail as a free spam filter for your pop mail account. It's extremely effective - more details here [2]
[1] http://www.gmail.google.com/
[2] http://techsupportalert.com/how_to_reduce_spam.htm

1.2 Free Security Tools

This site offers an eclectic collection of free security utilities covering encryption and CRC style file verification. Also included is an interesting free notepad replacement, a search and replace utility, a backup program and more. Thanks to Joe Fox for the suggestion.
http://members.ozemail.com.au/~nulifetv/freezip/freeware/

1.3 The Best Flickr Photo Finder

You'll admire the interface on this Flickr tag browser. It's fast too.
http://www.airtightinteractive.com/projects/related_tag_browser/app/

1.4 Vista Pros and Cons

Nice simple slideshow presentation from eWeek. I agree with pretty well everything they say.
http://www.eweek.com/slideshow/0,1206,l=&s=&a=199829,00.asp?kc=EWEWKEMLP020307BOEB

1.5 Get Vista for Upgrade Price

The internet has been awash with the news that it's perfectly possible to get Vista at the upgrade price even if you don't have a previous eligible version of Windows. It involves installing a trial version of Vista then upgrading that. I've not tried it but I hear that it really works and is quite legal. Full details here [1].
http://blogs.zdnet.com/Bott/?p=196#more-196

1.6 Specialist BIOS Site

Got BIOS Power-On-Self-Test problems? If so, head straight to this tech site. You'll find lots of other BIOS information as well.
http://www.bioscentral.com/

1.7 How to Improve Your Wi-Fi Security

Most of the public Wi-Fi networks found in airports and coffee shops are unsecured and present major security risks to users. This useful article [1] discusses the risks and what you can do to minimize them. Me, I always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when using public Wi-Fi as it represents a near perfect security solution. If you are tech savvy you can set one up yourself using Hamachi [2] or alternatively use a reputable commercial VPN service provider such as HotspotVPN [3], JWire [4] or WiTopia [5]. There is also a free VPN service provider called HotSpot Shield [6] but I haven't used it and don't know how their service stacks up.
[1] http://www.jiwire.com/whitepaper-section1.htm
[2] http://www.hamachi.cc/
[3] http://www.hotspotvpn.com/
[4] http://www.jiwire.com/hotspot-helper.htm
[5] http://www.witopia.net/
[6] http://www.anchorfree.com/hotspot-shield/

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1.8 Cheap Alternative to Vista

If you are disinclined to fork out big bucks for the improved security features of Vista then perhaps you should consider switching to Linux which offers even better security plus thousands of free programs. Linux is not for everyone but if you're an experienced user and not wedded to Windows-only applications like Photoshop or advanced Excel spreadsheets then you should at least check out what's available. The best way to try is by using a bootable LiveCD which allows you run Linux from the CD without disturbing your Windows installation. At this site [1] you can find LiveCDs for dozens of different flavors of Linux (distros). For guidance on the best distro for you try this site [2] which offers a selection wizard. For more details on individual distros, checkout the DistroWatch site [3]. If this all sounds too complicated, simply try the Ubuntu LiveCD [4]. Ubuntu Linux is probably the best choice for most Windows users with 512MB of RAM or more and is getting slicker with each release. It installs effortlessly on most machines, has excellent hardware support, the desktop is comfortably familiar and it comes with a huge bag of free programs with one click installation of thousands more. On the downside, multimedia and wireless networking support is limited though the upcoming April release of V7 should address both issues. You can download the CD or have it sent by snail mail. You don't even have to pay the mailing costs!
[1] http://www.frozentech.com/content/livecd.php
[2] http://eedok.voidofmind.com/linux/chooser.html
[3] http://distrowatch.com/
[4] http://www.ubuntu.com/

1.9 Solving "Safely Remove Hardware" Problems

Most XP users are aware they should click the "Safely Remove Hardware" before unplugging USB devices like external drives, USB sticks or flash card readers but a common frustration is the process fails with a message that the device cannot be stopped right now. There are several causes of this problem with file handle locking the most common. For solutions check out the readers comments to this blog post. Of course rebooting is the final solution though hardly convenient.
http://djlizard.net/2005/08/04/66

1.10 Selecting the Right Boot Disk

This site offer a short but useful summary of the various boot disks currently available for download. Thanks to subscriber Iain Bryden for the link.
http://www.zdnetasia.com/insight/hardware/0,39043471,39113755,00.htm

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

2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite 7 Reviewed

Security Suites promise to reduce the complexity of PC security by rolling a firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and more into a single easy-to-use product. It sounds like a great idea but most I've tested have disappointed. Rather than provide an integrated solution they have felt more like hastily kludged together separate components. Worse still, the performance of individual components has been significantly inferior to the best available stand-alone packages.

The release of Zone Alarm Internet Security Suite 7 [1] promises to change all that by combining the outstanding Kaspersky anti-virus program with ZoneAlarm's class-leading firewall. Well, does it deliver?

Regular contributor "Briard" has been checking it out and submitted an excellent user review [2]. In summary, he sees much to like but laments the extremely high resource usage, a usage so high that it rules the product out for all but the speediest PCs. It was also slow to scan - the slowest of any AV product he had ever used.

Briard's review was for a very late beta so I decided to test out the production version on one of my own PCs. This particular PC normally runs NOD32, WebRoot SpySweeper and the Comodo Firewall so it was a good opportunity to test the ZA7 suite against a set of top performing separates. My main concern here was usability and resource usage rather than malware detection rate as both of these solutions offer outstanding detection. Kaspersky is at least as good as NOD32 while the ZA firewall is an equal match for Comodo. The anti-spyware detection in ZA7 is not as strong as SpySweeper but that is offset by stronger IM protection in ZA7.

After a week of use of the production ZA7 I broadly with agree Briard's findings for the late beta: ZA7 will gobble up your RAM and eat up your CPU cycles. Indeed, the total memory usage of over 120MB is the highest I've seen in any security program. On my 3.2GHz dual core PC with 2GB of RAM, though, it wasn't really a problem. In fact, I didn't really notice any difference in performance compared to using the set of separate security utilities normally installed on that PC. However, I do agree with Briard about the slow scanning; ZA7 took nearly three hours to scan my PC compared to a little over an hour for NOD32. And you can't argue that the extra time was taken up by extra thoroughness as ZA7 didn't find a single additional malware product.

On the positive side, I liked the ZA7 interface. The use of a single control panel rather than three is a real plus and it's better designed than the panels in either NOD32 and SpySweeper. Another plus was the boot time. In sharp contrast to Briard's findings with the beta version, I found boot time was noticeably quicker with ZA7 than with the separates.

So what do I think? ZA7 is a good solution for users with fast modern PCs with plenty of memory. It offers first class protection, ease of use and, at the moment, an attractive discount price that is less than you would pay if you used a set of separate security programs. Apart from the system requirement my only other caveat is that ZA7 is a new product and there are still some early version bugs. They are minor annoyances rather than show-stoppers but if you have the kind of personality that can't tolerate such things then you may be better off waiting a month or two until the product is better sorted out. Commercial software, currently $49.95, 15-day trial, All Windows versions but with some compatibility issues with Vista, 37.7MB

[1] http://www.zonelabs.com/store/content/catalog/products/sku_list.jsp?dc=12bms
[2] http://techsupportalert.com/review-zonealarm-security-suite.htm

2.2 Free Utility Backs Up Frequently Changed Files

Most users have learned to regularly save documents while they are creating them. While this prevents you from losing your work, it has the disadvantage that each time you save you write over the previous version and so can't go back to an early revision. You can get around this by using different file names each time you save but an easier way is to use the free FileHampster program that automatically time stamps and stores copies each time you save. Furthermore, it allows you to annotate each copy so that your revision versions are fully documented. I tried it and it works well though I suggest you watch the quick start tutorial before using. There are some nice plug-ins, too, including one that allows you to use a third party dif program such as WinMerge to view the differences between versions. Overall I was quite impressed. Yes, there are other programs around that perform a similar task but FileHampster is as powerful as any yet is among the easiest to use. Freeware, Windows 2000 and later with .NET V2.0 Framework, 1.1MB
http://www.mogware.com/FileHamster/

2.3 Add Paste and Go Feature to Firefox

One of the many great features in the Opera Browser is the way it loads a site automatically when you paste the URL into the address box. The same applies to search, just paste the search term and the search runs automatically without the need to hit "Enter" or the Search button. Paste and Go [1] is a Firefox extension that gives you similar functionality in Firefox. It's not quite as elegant as the Opera implementation in that you need to use Shift Ctrl V to paste and go rather than just Ctrl V but, nonetheless, it will save you time every day. A related Firefox extension is Linkification. This allows you to highlight a text-only link in a web page and then use the right click context menu to open the link in a new tab or window.
[1] https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/3035/
[2] https://addons.mozilla.org/firefox/190/

2.4 Free Word Plug-in Allows Reading/Writing of OpenOffice Documents

You've probably noticed the increasing number of documents in the OpenDocument format, also called ODF. It's an open standard that encompasses a number of different file types. The one you see most commonly is .odt which is for word processing documents but there is .ods for spreadsheets, .odp for presentations and others [1]. Most of these documents originate from folks using the increasingly popular free OpenOffice suite [2]. This has created problems for Microsoft Word users as that product cannot read .odt documents. This problem has now been solved with the release of a free Open Source plug-in for Word [3] that allows users of Word 2002 (XP) and later to read or write ODF documents. The OpenXML Translator plug-in was developed by several of Microsoft's partners and is endorsed by Microsoft itself [4]. Future developments will include plug-ins for Excel and other Office components.
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDocument
[2] http://www.openoffice.org/
[3] http://sourceforge.net/projects/odf-converter
[4] http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2007/jan07/02-01OpenXMLPR.mspx

2.5 Better Manage Windows Startup

Startup Delayer is a free utility that allows you to speed up your Windows startup by delaying the startup of non essential programs until Windows has loaded. The idea is quite sound. At startup many application programs try to run in a short period of time and in the process push your CPU to the limit. By delaying the onset of non-essential programs, resources are freed and thus Windows itself can start more quickly. That means your desktop comes up quicker and you can get on with your work with less delay. I tried it on my PC and managed to reduce the time for the desktop to be usable from 85 seconds to around 65 seconds. Not a lot but worthwhile if you reboot often. Thanks to subscriber Steven Hodge for the suggestion. Freeware, Windows 98->XP, 1.1MB
http://www.r2.com.au/software.php?page=2&show=startdelay

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2.6 How to Move All Your Programs to a New PC

It's fun to get a new PC but one of the downsides is the odious task of reinstalling all your programs. It's a big job that can take days. It would be much easier if you could simply move your installed programs from the old PC to the new but alas, that usually doesn't work. Over the years various commercial programs have arisen that claim to be able to transfer your programs automatically but every one I've tried has either not worked at all or been only been partly successful. Recently, Laplink, the makers of the well known PC to PC file transfer program of the same name, has introduced a product called PCmover [1] that moves applications from PC to PC by using a kind of imaging technique. I was skeptical of the claim as I had tried using imaging programs to move a system image from one PC to another and had met with only limited success. To put the claim to the test I asked subscriber Oers Kelemen to try PCmover out. Oers had just purchased a new PC so he could test the product in a real life situation. The good news is that PCMover worked as advertised. Read the full review here [2]. Me, I'm yet to test PCMover but am encouraged by Oers' findings. I'll try it next time I buy a new PC. Anything that promises to saves me reinstalling dozens of programs must at least be worth trying! Commercial software, Windows 95 and later including Vista, Download version $49.95 plus cable if required, 8.3MB
[1] http://www.laplink.com/PCmover/
[2] http://techsupportalert.com/review-pc-mover.htm

2.7 Anti-malware Scanner for Your USB Flash Drive

In issue #141, I recommended the excellent online spyware scan available from Ewido [1] but noted that you needed to use Internet Explorer because the online scan employs ActiveX controls. However, subscriber David Harton notes, "if you don't use Internet Explorer the Ewido site recognizes this and allows you to download a light version of Ewido that does not need to be installed. It's ideal to put on your USB stick." Nice observation David, thanks.
[1] http://www.ewido.net/en/onlinescan/

2.8 Free Business Accounting and CRM Software

In the last month I've come across two separate packages for small to medium size businesses. The first, suggested by subscriber Keith Richmond, is from Microsoft and is called Microsoft Office Accounting Express 2007. It's a huge 208MB download and seems crammed with features. The second, from Averiware, takes care of most aspects of running a business such as accounting, sales, supply chain, HR, and ecommerce including ERP, CRM, SFA, HR, SCM, etc. Being a technical dude I have no way of evaluating the quality of these business products but at face value they both look to be worth checking out.
[1] http://ideawins.com/productinfo.html Freeware, Windows XP and later, 208MB
[2] http://www.averiwarefree.com

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

Thankfully, Microsoft has finally patched most of the serious flaws in Microsoft Word, exploits for which have been in active circulation for more than two months. The security risk associated with Office documents has not gone away though. There are still unpatched flaws and, indeed, a serious new zero-day exploit for Word 2000 and XP has just surfaced [1].

The security problems with older version of Office will be ongoing and may well accelerate during the year. This is going to present serious problems to users and organizations and put pressure on many to upgrade to Office 2007. If you don't want to switch to Office 2007 you may want to consider using the much safer zipped XML file format used in Office 2007. You can do this by using the free Office Compatibility Pack [2] that's available from Microsoft. It works with Office XP and 2003 and allows you to open, edit, save, and create files using the Open XML format.

The Word patches formed part of a batch of 12 security updated issued by Microsoft on Patch Tuesday, February 13, six of which covered flaws rated as "Critical."

The Word patch MS07-014 fixed six separate problems of which four covered actively circulating zero-day exploits. All supported versions of Word are affected with the exception of Word 2007. Microsoft Office products were also featured in another critical patch MS07-015. This covered serious problems in PowerPoint and Excel, each of which could be exploited simply by getting a user to open a specially crafted file. All Windows versions of office are affected with the exception of Office 2007.

MS07-016 was another cumulative Internet Explorer patch for versions 6 and 7 designed to fix three separate serious problems.

Somewhat ironically, MS07-010 covered a critical flaw in the Malware Protection Engine. The flaw lies in the way the Engine scans a PDF file and could be exploited by an attacker using a specially crafted PDF. The attacker could then potentially take control of the affected machine. No user intervention is required. Affected components include Microsoft Windows Defender and Live OneCare including Vista implementations.

The last of the six critical rated patches, MS07-009, relates to an ActiveX problem in Microsoft Data Access Components.

Further details of the February updates can be found here [3] while a discussion of implementation issues can be found on this Microsoft blog [4]. All the updates are distributed automatically via the Microsoft Update Service. Dial-up users in particular need to be aware that these updates are large files and you will need a considerable period of time online for them to download successfully. If you have any doubts whether you have received the updates then visit the Microsoft Update Service [5] now.

[1] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/advisory/933052.mspx
[2] http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/products/HA101686761033.aspx
[3] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms07-feb.mspx
[4] http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/columnItem/0,294698,sid14_gci1243642,00.html
[5] http://update.microsoft.com (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 Vista Live OneCare Flunks Test

I've never been impressed by the quality of the anti-virus scanner used in Microsoft Live OneCare and the latest set of test results from Virus Bulletin bears this out. In the VB February 2007 tests using a Vista host, Live OneCare suffered the ignominy of being one of only four products that failed to get the Top 100 rating. Even the free AVG anti-virus passed! Bad news for Vista users who subscribe to Live OneCare.
http://www.virusbtn.com/vb100/archive/results.xml?display=summary (registration required)

3.3 Get Vista for Free - Includes Free Bonus Trojan!

This BBC article sent to me by subscriber Brett Shand makes some very interesting observations about the number of computers now harnessed in Botnets but to me the most sobering point was the observation that "about 50% of all pirated Windows programs came with Trojans pre-installed on them." Most of the trojans of course would be stealthed so you could never detect them with security software. Still interested in one of those Chinese copies of Vista floating around the P2P networks?
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6298641.stm

3.4 The Limitations of McAfee Site Adviser

McAfee site advisor is an outstanding free program that I recommend everyone use. It works by annotating the sites listed in web search results with a rating indicating whether the sites are safe or not. "Safe" here means the site does offer any infected downloads, has links to sites have infected downloads or is a known spammer of users who provide the site their email addresses. It's a great product that prevents surfers accidentally straying to hostile sites but it's not perfect. Every week I get letters from subscribers worried about sites that I have recommended that get flagged in red by SiteAdvisor. In almost all cases the sites involved are totally kosher. In fact, many are reputable computer security sites. They have been incorrectly flagged by SiteAdvisor because they contain links to bad sites. Now, almost every security site has links to bad sites because it's hard to discuss these bad sites professionally without giving the URL. The moral here is to use your common sense when looking at Site Advisor results. Site Advisor is great guide but it is not perfect. That said, if you are not using Site Advisor go get it now.
http://www.siteadvisor.com/

3.5 Protecting Yourself from Phishing

Regular contributor Howie Mirkin has sent in an excellent suggestion for reducing the chance of having your confidential information stolen through a phishing scam. Howie writes, "I get a lot of security newsletters that discuss phishing and in virtually every one of them the emphasis is on how to identify fake web sites or how to spot a fake (phishing) email. This is all too hard - these fake sites and emails are just too good. It's much easier to focus on getting to the correct site rather than trying to identify a fake one. All users need do is bookmark (add to favorites) all the web sites where they conducts financial transactions and use these bookmarks whenever they need to access these sites rather than the links contained in any email." Howie goes on to note that the best way to bookmark these sites is to login to the site and bookmark the opening page. This will inevitably be a secure https page. If at a later time you use the bookmark you will automatically be asked to login from a secure page. Howie's suggestion makes a great deal of sense and if followed would almost eliminate the possibility of being defrauded. Me, if I get a request from a financial institution I adopt the practice suggested by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and telephone the institution for confirmation. Just make sure you use the number in the phone directory is not the one in the email. :>) More details here:
http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/phishing.htm

3.6 Super Bowl Stadium Website Compromised

I suggest you read this February 2 security alert, folks; it augurs of things to come: "Websense Security Labs has discovered that the official website of Dolphin Stadium has been compromised with malicious code. The Dolphin Stadium is currently experiencing a large number of visitors, as it is the home of Sunday's Super Bowl XLI. The site is linked from numerous official Super Bowl websites and various Super Bowl-related search terms return links to the site. A link to a malicious JavaScript file has been inserted into the header of the front page of the site. Visitors to the site execute the script, which attempts to exploit two vulnerabilities: MS06-014 and MS07-004. Both of these exploits attempt to download and execute a malicious file. The file that is downloaded is an NsPack-packed Trojan keylogger/backdoor, providing the attacker with full access to the compromised computer." Hmm, and you think I'm being alarmist when I say you should surf using a sandbox.
http://www.websense.com/securitylabs/alerts/alert.php?AlertID=733

3.7 Revealing All Your File Extensions? Think Again

Subscriber Kevin Andrews recently wrote asking whether his PC could become infected by opening a .txt file attachment to an email. Unfortunately, it's quite possible using a double file extension like letter.txt.shs because Windows won't display certain special extensions like .shs even if you've set Windows to show all file extensions. Try it now. Just add .shs to the end of the file name of any .txt file. Scary eh? You can however tweak your registry to solve the problem. Full details can be found at this site but note that registry tweaking is for experienced users only.
http://www.geocities.com/ResearchTriangle/Lab/1131/eng/safe.html

4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 Free E-Books Galore

Regular contributor JW writes, "Gizmo, This guy buys e-books on eBay, apparently gets the rights to them as a reseller then makes them available for free here." Thanks JW, most of titles lie outside of my area of interest but I'm sure many subscribers will find something of value. For example "Sony Playstation 2 Repair Guide" could be useful, though "65 Tried & Trusted Amish Recipes" may have a more limited appeal. :>)
http://www.floodle.net/

4.2 Quantum Computers Now a Reality

What is claimed to be the "World's first commercially viable quantum computer" has been demonstrated by D-Wave Systems in Mountain View California. I didn't hear them claim it was a quantum leap forward in computing but I bet their ad men thought about it. :>) Whatever, this may be a significant step towards the much-talked-about "Singularity" [2]. Quick reader quiz: who was Orac and how does he relate to this item? A free Premium subscription for the first correct answer.
[1] http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1697,2094849,00.asp
[2] http://mindstalk.net/vinge/vinge-sing.html

4.3 Make Fancy Text Animations

Prolific contributor Tony Bennett recently wrote, "Hey Gizmo, I thought some of your readers might like these little gems. They turn text, images into animations and overlay images." Nice one Tony, these are some of the cutest text effects I've seen from a free utility.
http://www.xiberpix.com/

4.4 Support Alert Subscriber Releases His Own CD

The knowledge, skills and talent of Support Alert subscribers never ceases to amaze me. Take regular contributor George Finizio. As well as being an advanced computer user, George is a seriously good rock musician. Just check out one of the sample tracks on his latest CD [1]. Me, I can't even whistle in tune.
[1] http://www.majesticsoundrecordings.com/free_downloads.htm

4.5 New Open Source Media Players Impress

Sick of all the DRM built into Windows Media Player and similar products? Well cut loose and try one of the new generation DRM free players starting to appear. Democracy [1] is one of the best designed video players I've seen. It will play just about any format, search and save YouTube files, has inbuilt BitTorrent and video RSS support and will even play HD content. For audio, the Firefox based Songbird looks like a winner though it's early days with this one.
[1] http://www.getdemocracy.com/
[2] http://www.songbirdnest.com/

4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department

I didn't know about this internet cartoon site [1] until subscriber Mikel Peterson wrote in and I must say that it's a real hoot. The geek humor at the end of this episode [2] really made me laugh.
[1] http://www.homestarrunner.com
[1] http://www.homestarrunner.com/tgs12.html

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.7 How to Find the Best Blank CDs (SE)

CDs have proved to be a shorter lived medium than anyone expected. In fact, I've got a whole bunch of three year old backups of which one third are unusable. Mind you, I did only pay 20 cents for them at the supermarket. :>) If you want to find out what brands last then check out this article.
http://adterrasperaspera.com/blog/2006/10/30/how-to-choose-cddvd-archival-media/

4.8 The Ultimate Geek Greeting Card

Here's a free web service that allows you to create an email greeting card where all the letters in the greeting message text are constructed from the photographic images of real buildings derived from Google Earth. Requires a broadband connection. Thanks to subscriber Joe Cervenka for this one.
http://www.geogreeting.com/
http://www.geogreeting.com/view.html (example card)

4.9 How to Track the Best Deals on the Web

There are number of deal of the day trackers around but I like this one because it surveys a lot of DOTD sites, has a good category classification and carries just the right amount of detail for each item to allow quick scanning.
http://deal-it-in.com/index.php?do=tab&id=1

5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Remove the Nag Screen from Diskeeper Lite

Diskeeper Lite is a great freebie but the nag screen is extremely intrusive. So intrusive that it goaded subscriber "Koolance" to find a way of removing it. Here's the way he did it:

"1. First make sure you have set file extensions to be displayed in Windows Explorer. To do this open Explorer and go to Folder Options / View tab and uncheck "Hide extensions for known file types".

2. Open Notepad and without writing anything select File / Save as and then name the file "ShowHtml.exe". In other words create a blank file of that name.

3. Open the directory you installed Diskeeper Lite in. Normally this is C:\Program Files\Executive Software\DiskeeperLite. Copy and Paste the file you just created into this folder. Select YES when ask if you want to replace the existing file.

That's it. No more nag screen! The buttons in Diskeeper Lite that bring up the "Nag Screen" will now do nothing.

If you want to, go back to Folder Options-->View tab and un-check "Hide extensions for known file types".

Another useful trick with Diskeeper Lite is to add automatic scheduling. This useful feature is available in the full version but not the Lite. I described how you could set up automatic scheduling in issue #138. You can read it here:
http://techsupportalert.com/issues/issue138.htm#Section_6.1

6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 The Best Free Disk Defragger

Several new contenders have entered the fray since I last reviewed this category so I was delighted when regular contributor Eric Santucci offered to do a comparative review [1] for me. Eric looked at four freebies as well as a commercial defragger for comparison.

He found that all the programs improved disk performance but the gains were modest and the differences between products small. The result is not surprising; with modern hard drives the benefits of defragging are much less pronounced than a few years ago.

Eric's personal choice was JkDefrag [2]. I understand that choice but would tend to prefer Diskeeper [3] Lite due to its proven track record of reliability. Diskeeper's attraction is further enhanced if you look at some of the tweaks you can make - see item 5.1 for details.

And here's another reason to use Diskeeper: Eric tested Diskeeper Lite V7, the version that is most widely available for download but there is a neat way to get Diskeeper Lite V9. It forms part of Intel's large (89MB) Desktop Utilities V2.1.9.66 package which is available from the Intel site [4]. When you unpack the file you'll find Diskeeper V9 Lite in the folder../3rdparty/Diskeeper/. Make sure you don't accidentally run the setup.exe file that's in the root folder - that's the Intel Desktop Utility setup program.

Neither the read-me file nor the License Agreement prohibit downloading and using this program on a single computer so it appears to be a perfectly legitimate way to obtain the program.

[1] http://techsupportalert.com/review-free-defraggers.htm
[2] http://www.kessels.com/JkDefrag/ Free GNU License, Windows 2000 and later, 293KB
[3] http://www.majorgeeks.com/Diskeeper_Lite_d1207.html Freeware, all Windows versions,12.1MB
[4] http://www.intel.com/design/motherbd/software/idu/

** Bonus Freebie for Premium Edition subscribers **

6.2 Free Replacement for Adobe Illustrator

Graphics editors fall into two distinct groups. First, there are digital image (or raster) based editors like Adobe Photoshop and Gimp and then there are Vector (or line) Based editors like Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW.

Although they can sometimes produce quite similar results they operate quite differently and each is suited to particular tasks. Digital image editors are great for editing photographs, icons and the like while vector based products are better suited to freehand drawing, fancy font effects and any work involving shapes. However the line based output from vector programs can be converted to images using a process called rasterization which further confuses the difference between the products. Almost all graphics professionals use both products, typically Photoshop and Illustrator, and use them together to achieve the best result.

Most average users have, however, only ever used image editors, such as the freebies that come with their digital cameras or the rudimentary editors built into image viewers such as IrfanView and Picasa. While fine for touching up digital photographs, the limitations of such products soon becomes evident when more ambitious effects such as curved lines of text or cartoon-style balloon text boxes are required.

The good news is that there is now an excellent free vector based graphics editor available. It's called Inkscape and it sports an impressive feature list. To quote the website "Inkscape ... uses W3C standard Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) file format. Supported SVG features include shapes, paths, text, markers, clones, alpha blending, transforms, gradients, patterns, and grouping. Inkscape also supports Creative Commons meta-data, node editing, layers, complex path operations, bitmap tracing, text-on-path, flowed text, direct XML editing, and more. It imports formats such as JPEG, PNG, TIFF, and others and exports PNG as well as multiple vector-based formats."

Equally attractive is its small size compared to most other vector based editors, a mere 24MB versus several hundred for Illustrator. It's a product in its early stages; the current release is only at V0.45 and doesn't, for example, yet support SVG filter effects, animation, and SVG fonts. It is, however, totally usable. That usability is enhanced by an excellent user interface and the impressive set of tutorials that come with the product that help wean the user away from the world of digital images to the nodes, lines, curves and shapes that form the basis of vector editing. Overall a top product that will only get better. Highly recommended. Free Open Source, Available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, 20.7MB.

http://www.inkscape.org/

7.0 MANAGE YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

The best way to manage your Premium Edition subscription is from the Supporters' Area of the Support Alert website. There you'll also find all individual back issues, a downloadable back issue archive, an extensive FAQ plus a growing list of resources exclusively available to Supporters.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/supporters/private.htm

The Supporters' Area is protected. To log-in, use the security information sent to you when you first subscribed or as notified subsequently.

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Enter your email address. No password is needed. You can then cancel your free subscription.

Note that the free and paid editions are totally different publications so you can unsubscribe to the free edition without any chance of impacting your paid subscription.

The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities
http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm

The Extended List of the Latest Freebies
http://www.techsupportalert.com/more/extended.htm

For lots more free IT newsletters see
http://www.freetechmail.org/infobase.asp?TPubId=79

Thanks to subscriber A. Belile for proofreading this issue.

You can contact this newsletter by snail mail at:
Support Alert
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Support Alert is a registered online serial publication ISSN 1448-7020. Content of this newsletter is (c) Copyright TechSupportAlert.com, 2007

See you next issue. It will be published on the 15th of March.

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com