gizmo richards' support alert newsletter

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

Premium Edition
Issue
153, 24th January, 2008

If you experience problems reading this issue in your email program you can read this issue online from the Supporters' Area here: http://www.techsupportalert.com/members/index.htm

IN THIS PREMIUM ISSUE:

0. EDITORIAL: Never re-install Windows again

Call for Help: Try Your Hand at Reviewing  Please read

1. TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 More Online File Format Conversion Sites
1.2 Free Browsers Galore
1.3 Free Security Scan of Your Running Processes
1.4 Tools for Techies
1.5 How to Read Those Annoying Outlook .DAT Email Attachments
1.6 How to Slim Down Windows
1.7 Drive Imaging Resources
1.8 How to Move Your Outlook Mail to Gmail (Premium Edition)
1.9 Top Web Radio Site (Premium Edition)
1.10 Recreate Your Windows Desktop on a USB Drive (Premium Edition)
2. TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES
2.1 Top RSS Reader is Now Free
2.2 Selecting the Best AV Program / Security Suite
2.3 Make Firefox Look Like IE7
2.4 Quickly Switch Between Open Applications
2.5 Get Top Commercial File Manager for Free
2.6 Another Excellent Free File Manager
2.7 Free Time Management and Productivity Utilities
2.8 Best free Windows Media Replacement (Premium Edition)
2.9 Top-Rated Commercial Media Player Now Free (Premium Edition)
2.10 How to Copy Large Folders or Drives Unattended (Premium Edition)
3. SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 Another Zero-day Exploit for Microsoft Excel
3.3 Multiple Patches for Oracle Products
3.4 Another Set of Critical Flaws in Adobe Flash Player
3.5 New Sandbox from ZoneAlarm
3.6 Top Spam Filter Now Available for Thunderbird
3.7 Free Virus Check Using Kaspersky
3.8 Viruses on the Decline - Social Networks the Next Target
3.9 Recoding Industry Dirty Tricks Exposed
3.10 Corrigenda - HxD Binary Editor
3.11 Changes to Premium Edition Subscription Conditions Please read
4. OTHER USEFUL STUFF
4.1 A Quality 4GB Flash Drive for $19.95
4.2 The Meaning of Avast!
4.3 See the Future of Computing Now
4.4 How to Stop Flash Movies/Ads on Websites Playing Automatically
4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.6 Learn How to Draw (Premium Edition)
4.7 How to Backup Your Data Online Cheaply (Premium Edition)
4.8 Best Free Portable Applications (Premium Edition)
5. TIP OF THE MONTH
5.1 How to Create a Bootable Rescue CD
6. FREEBIE OF THE MONTH
6.1 The Best Free Minimizer
6.2 How to Run Your CDs/DVDs Without the Disks (Premium Edition)
7. MANAGING YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

0.0 EDITORIAL

Over the last few months I've talked about setting up your PC to backup your Windows operating system using freeware utilities. It's a job that's divided into three phases: drive partitioning, data relocation and drive imaging. This month I'll show you how to partition your hard drive and move your data. Next month, in the last part of this series, I'll show you how to image your system drive.

But I need to start with some caveats:

First, these instructions are written for average users, not beginners. No, you don't need to be an expert, but you will need to know how to do operations like locating, moving and coping files without me telling you how.  These instructions are not for technical experts either. The partitioning and data schemes I'll be outlining are extremely simple, rather than optimal. I've deliberately kept things simple so they are within the scope of average users. Besides, if you are a true technical honcho you know how to do this stuff already :>)

Second, I'm only going to give instructions for Windows XP Home and Pro. That's because some of the freeware products I've chosen only work with XP. They may also work for Vista but I've not tried them out. Windows 9X and ME users are, I'm afraid, out of luck.

Third, I'm assuming your PC has only a single partition on the hard drive and that drive has plenty of free space. You can check this in "My Computer". If the only hard drive shown is C: and it's less than 60% full then you are fine.

Fourth, it's essential that you backup all your personal data to removable media or an online backup service before you start because it's possible that you may lose your data permanently if something goes wrong. For the same reason you'll also need a copy of your Windows setup disk handy, just in case you have to re-install Windows.

Finally, and most importantly, you'll need at least two hours of time to complete the necessary steps. If you don't have the time, wait until you do.

Enough qualifications; let's do it.

The instructions are far too long for this editorial so I've written a guide on my website.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/partitioning-hard-drives-2.htm

This step-by-step guide covers partitioning your drive and moving some of your data to the new partition. When completed, your PC will be functioning normally, using the new partition scheme. Well, I hope it will be functioning normally :>)

The process of imaging your drive will have to wait until next month. That's because I want you to do some preparation in advance.

The preparation involves the creation of a "UBCD4Win" boot CD. Don't panic; I've set out instructions how to do this in the Tip of the Month section at the end of this newsletter. So there's your homework.

See you next month.

Gizmo
supporters@techsupportalert.com



Call for Help: Try Your Hand at Reviewing

For the last two issues I've asked for volunteers to help with the new Wiki-style version of the "46 Best-ever Freeware" list.

For this project to succeed, each software category needs an editor to moderate user comments, so I'm looking for experienced individuals to fill these roles.

The response has been good, but more volunteers are needed because there are still quite a few software categories needing editors.

If you feel that you are knowledgeable about a particular software category such as "program editors" or "disk encryption" then why not share your knowledge by becoming the editor for that category in the "46 Best-ever Freeware list."

As a category editor you will be fully credited for your efforts, unless, of course, you wish to remain anonymous. It's a great way to get your 15 minutes of fame. It's also a way of becoming an internet "giver" rather than just a "taker". And you will be surprised at just how much you will learn from the suggestions of others; I certainly have.

As of now, nearly 30 subscribers have volunteered. but more are needed. If you are interested, check out the list of still-vacant categories here [1] and select the categories that you would like to edit.

Then email coordinator@techsupportalert.com with your selections plus a very short description of your background and experience. If you have any commercial affiliations related to any of the categories, please state them.

Feel free to select as many categories as you like or to suggest a new software category if you feel it is needed.

Thanks

Gizmo

[1] http://techsupportalert.com/allocation.htm


1.0 TOP TECH SITES AND RESOURCES

1.1 More Online File Format Conversion Sites
Converting files from one format to another is a common problem. A good solution is to use a free online conversion site where you can upload a file in one format and then download it converted to your desired format. Here are two of the best such sites. Each has its strengths though it's worth noting  that the Media Convert site offers a solution to one of the most common conversion needs - converting Adobe Acrobat PDF files to Microsoft Word DOC files.  Both sites are advertising-supported so turn your pop-up blocker on. Thanks to subscriber Stuart for the suggestion.
[1] http://media-convert.com/ (up to 150Mb files)
[2] http://www.youconvertit.com/ (up to 300Mb files)

1.2 Free Browsers Galore
In this world there are many browsers; this site lists but some of them. Well more than 100, actually. Thanks to subscriber Mukund Kumar for the link.
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2007/11/21/web-browsers-you-have-never-heard-of/

1.3 Free Security Scan of Your Running Processes
Software vendor Uniblue is offering a free process scanner [1] that you can download and run on your PC. There are many excellent free process scanners but what's different about this one is that it cross checks each of your running processes against Uniblue's huge internet catalogue of legitimate and known malware programs. If one of your programs is a security risk it is flagged. It works quite well, and if you use it together with a good rootkit scanner such as Panda [2] you should be able to pick up just about any secret malware infection lurking on your PC.
[1] http://www.processlibrary.com/processscan (901KB)
[2] http://www.pandasecurity.com/homeusers/downloads/docs/product/help/rkc/en/rkc_en.htm

1.4 Tools for Techies
If you work in tech support you really should bookmark this site [1]. It has as good a collection of freeware and shareware technical tools as I've seen anywhere. The downloadable set of utilities is a must-have. If you need more try this downloadable repair kit for flash drives [2].
[1] http://www.technibble.com/categories/computer-repair-tools/
[2]
http://dailycupoftech.com/usb-drive-systems/3/

1.5 How to Read Those Annoying Outlook .DAT Email Attachments
If you don't use Outlook as your email client you've almost certainly run into the problem of receiving email from Outlook users with unreadable winmail.dat attachments. This site, suggested by subscriber Geoff Worboys, will help you decode them. Well worth bookmarking.
http://tud.at/php/tnef/

1.6 How to Slim Down Windows
Windows includes a lot of components to allow it work in a huge and diverse range of environments. As a result, your version of Windows is bloated with a whole lot of stuff you will never use. There are various ways of removing this fat. For example, the Black Viper site [1] provides excellent guidance as to what services you can disable. There is also nLite [2], a freeware program that allows you to create a customized cut-down version of Windows geared to your specific needs. Both of these are valuable options, but there are many traps here for beginners. If you want to slim down your version of Windows, I suggest you read Bold_Fortune's "Complete Guide to Slimming down Windows XP" [3] first. It will not only tell you what to do, but also alert you to the pitfalls you need to avoid. Highly recommended.
[1] http://www.blackviper.com/
[2] http://www.nliteos.com/
[3] http://www.bold-fortune.com/forums/index.php?showforum=13

1.7 Drive Imaging Resources

Subscriber Grover Hatcher has sent in a very useful list of articles on drive imaging available from the Wilders Security Forums:

a. A new option is now available thanks to Paul Purviance (a.k.a. "Mudcrab"). He has provided us with guides showing how to make an external USB drive act in place of the Acronis True Image Rescue CD. An external drive can be made bootable with the TI Rescue program so that it boots directly into the TI Rescue program and can also contain your backup archives for easy backup or recovery. "How to Create an Acronis Bootable USB Hard Disk"

http://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?t=176958

b. For those who are new to Acronis TrueImage (or find their user manual too daunting), I have created "Need Help These Beginner's Guides May Fill That Need!" There are two PDF files Beginner's Guide to creating a basic full disk archive Beginner's Guide to restoring a basic full disk archive
http://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?t=168165

c. In your June 2007 letter, Item 2.6: "Get Acronis True Image for Free", this version according to Acronis is customized for the vendor and support must also come from Maxtor/Seagate. The link below by "Mustang" lists the limitations
http://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?t=175584#7

d. Also, be aware of Mustang's excellent "Beginner's Guide to Creating a BartPE CD with a TI Plugin"
http://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?t=162424


** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

1.8 How to Move Your Outlook Mail to Gmail
It's quite simple to upload your Outlook email files from the .pst files on your PC to your Gmail account by using IMAP. Full details here [1]. It's a cheap and effective way of backing up your mail. Thanks to shy subscriber "Techie" for the link.
http://www.zoliblog.com/2007/10/24/simplified-guide-to-importing-all-your-archive-email-into-gmail/

1.9 Top Web Radio Site
Subscriber Mike Day writes. "Hey Gizmo, check out this site [1]. It allows me to program the music I want and takes very little effort. I've tried all sorts of radio sites and even have Sirius in my car. But nothing compares to Slacker!" Nice suggestion, Mike. The range offered is huge and it's really easy to use. It is, however, only for North American users. I see they now offer a matching hand-held "radio". Nice idea but a bit pricey for me.
[1] http://www.slacker.com/

1.10 Recreate Your Windows Desktop on a USB Drive
MojoPac is a commercial program that allows you run Windows from a USB Drive or iPod. Better still, you can create a full Windows desktop environment, similar to that on your own PC, including all your applications such as Outlook. This commercial program is now free to home users. Before you get too excited note that you need Administrator rights on the PC into which you plug your flash drive.
http://www.mojopac.com/portal/content/hellomojo.jsp


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



2.0 TOP FREEWARE AND SHAREWARE UTILITIES

2.1 Top RSS Reader is Now Free
FeedDemon has always been one of the best RSS readers, but it was a tad expensive. Not any more; the company has announced [1] that it is making the latest version available to home users for free. And it gets better. They are also making available their other consumer products free for private use as well, including NewsGator Go! for BlackBerry/Java. I've looked into it and there are no catches as far as I can see apart from the fact it only works with Internet Explorer. OK, support is now limited to forums, but you can hardly expect more.  Thanks to regular contributor Leib Moscovitz for letting me know. Free for personal use, Windows 98 and later with IE6 and later, 3.8MB
[1] http://nick.typepad.com/blog/2008/01/free-demon-yes.html
[2] http://www.newsgator.com/Individuals/FeedDemon/Default.aspx

2.2 Selecting the Best AV Program / Security Suite
Who do you believe when trying to work out the best anti-virus products? You can't believe all the testing "authorities" because they often disagree. Regular contributor Briard has addressed this problem head-on by bringing together, in one report, an impressive analysis of how the top AV products are rated by the major testing organizations. He uses this to produce a short list of the top products. Briard then goes on to look at the latest Security Suites from some of the top rated vendors and comes up with some definite recommendations. This is another outstanding report from Briard. It's comprehensive, well researched and a delight to read. Furthermore, I agree with pretty much everything he has to say. Highly recommended.
http://www.techsupportalert.com/review-security-guards.htm

2.3 Make Firefox Look Like IE7
Regular contributor Rick Farrow writes "Hey Gizmo. I have finally started trying out Firefox again and it sure feels better this time around. I have the usual add-ons but frankly I like the layout of IE7. Then the other day I found a FF theme that looks nearly identical to IE7 that is called myFireFox [1]. I guess there are a number of the Vista aero type themes for FF nowadays but MyFireFox is the only one I have used without any quirks." Nice find Rick, thanks. You can find some more ways to make Firefox look like Internet Explorer here [2].
[1] https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/4129
[2] http://johnhaller.com/jh/mozilla/firefox_internet_explorer/

2.4 Quickly Switch Between Open Applications
Experienced users know that they can switch between running applications by using the Alt-Tab task switching feature built into Windows. The only problem is that to get to the program you want, you have to cycle through all running applications by repeatedly pressing the Tab key until you get to the required program. TaskSwitchXP is a replacement for the standard Windows Alt-Tab task switcher that overcomes this problem by displaying all running applications in one screen, thus making it quicker and easier to find the program you want. It also adds a whole bunch of features, including the ability to minimize applications to the system tray, terminate programs, show process information and more. All of this in a tiny 445KB program that takes up virtually no memory. This is a utility that should be on every XP PC. Thanks to subscribers Toby Knott, "Schtrudel" and Brad Taylor, all of whom suggested this product at different times over the last year. Freeware, Windows XP and 2003, 445KB
http://www.ntwind.com/software/taskswitchxp.html


2.5 Get Top File Commercial Manager for Free
In a recent issue I recommended the file manager XYplorer. It's a great Windows Explorer replacement and has an outstanding non-indexed file search facility than can search both for file names and content within files with surprising speed. I noted that XYplorer was shareware but the last free version was still available. Now some good news: Richard Craggs and others have written in to let me know that the author of XYplorer has released a new free version called XYplorerFree. It's an old version of the current commercial product but at version 5.55 it's much more recent than the other "last free version" that I mentioned. If you haven't yet tried XYplorer then please do so - it's a great product. It doesn't require installation so you can try it without risk. Freeware, All Windows versions, 837KB
http://www.xyplorer.com/free.php

2.6 Another Excellent Free File Manager
When I recently asked subscriber Jim Campbell to prepare a comparative review of Windows Explorer replacements, he was stopped in his tracks by Free Commander. He was so impressed that he abandoned the comparative review and wrote a review [2] on Free Commander instead. I agree with Jim that it's a nice product, but I find the Norton Commander style interface old fashioned. I also miss having inbuilt file viewers. That said, I'm aware that a whole group of users swear by Free Commander. It's free so why not read Jim's review [2] and check it out yourself? Freeware, Windows 2000-Vista, 2.16MB
[1] http://www.freecommander.com/
[2] http://www.techsupportalert.com/review-free-commander.htm

2.7 Free Time Management and Productivity Utilities
The folks over at DonationCoder have been running a contest for their programmers to write some little utilities geared to personal productivity. They have had quite a response. Some of the programs are very specialized, but others are for more general application. The usefulness of these products depends on your individual needs, so do check out what's available; you may find something that you have long been searching for. I did :>) Yes, they are all free.
http://goe2007.donationcoder.com
http://www.donationcoder.com/nany2008/

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

2.8 Best free Windows Media Replacement

This updated review was prepared by subscriber Joe Bennett.

It used to be that you needed one program to play MP3 files, another to play streaming media from Real, another to play Mpeg files, and yet another to play QuickTime movies. Then, with the advent of Microsoft's Windows Media Player, many different media types began to be played in one player, but WMP in XP and Vista has become bloated and doesn't work with all of the types of files out there. Then came along WinAmp, which started out as an mp3 player and now does almost everything, but does use up a lot of system resources and can contain adware if you aren't careful on the installation.

Recently, iTunes has become more prevalent on many people's PCs, but it also takes up a lot of resources and is processor intensive. So I have done some major research for an alternative media player, and found some that not only replace the functionality of WMP, WinAmp and iTunes, but exceed them as well.

My personal favorite is Media Player Classic, available for Windows 95 through Vista. MPC looks like the old Windows Media Player v6.4, but that is where the similarity ends. Under the hood, this program packs a lot of features, including codecs for viewing DVD discs, MPEG1, MPEG2, and MPEG4 video files, MP3 and Ogg files. MPC can also use the QuickTime and the RealPlayer architectures (if installed on the computer) to play their native files. If you really want to extend MPC's functionality while avoiding the installation of RealPlayer, WinAmp and QuickTime, download "ffdshow", "Real Alternative", "QuickTime Alternative" and "WinAmp Alternative" packages. They will make sure there will be almost nothing you won't be able to play. MPC is the only product reviewed here that requires no installation on your PC. This means that it can be run from your USB flash drive as well as your hard drive. (Note: There is some dispute over the legality of "Real Alternative and "QuickTime Alternative" codec packs. ffdshow is open source, completely legal, and should cover almost all of your needs.)

Another good choice is VLC Media Player. VLC is available for multiple OSs, including all versions of Windows (98 to Vista), Mac OS X, and many varieties of Linux. Most versions will support playback of most video files and DVD discs without the need to download external codec packs, including flv files, which MPC cannot play. VLC player has another unique feature as well. There are 5 different DVD region codes and DVDs manufactured for one region will not play in players made for a different region. This applies to PC DVD Drives as well... until now. FLV Player plays them all. There is no need for any shady (and possibly illegal) DVD region spoofing programs. This is especially nice if you are an international traveler and want to watch a movie on your laptop outside your country.

Yet another alternative is GOM Player. Available only for Windows (98Se through Vista), it also will play most media files, including flv files with its own internal codecs. If, however, you come across a file it cannot play, it will direct you to the appropriate open source codec to install. The program is a little quirky, though. I tried to play a DVD disc on two different pc's using GOM... On one it would not play it at all (and this was a machine I've been able to play DVD discs on before) while on the other one it played fine. GOM also claims to be able to play broken AVI files, though I did not have one available to try out.

Media Player Classic
Download site:
http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=82303&package_id=84358
Size: 2.12 MB
Supported OS: Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2K, XP, Vista License: Free for private and commercial use
Portability: No installation required. Can be run from a flash drive Additional related software:
ffdshow:
http://ffdshow-tryout.sourceforge.net/
Real Alternative:
http://www.free-codecs.com/download/Real_Alternative.htm
QuickTime Alternative:
http://www.free-codecs.com/download/QuickTime_Alternative.htm
WinAmp Alternative:
http://www.softpedia.com/progDownload/Winamp-Alternative-Download-23376.html

VLC Media Player
Download site:
http://www.videolan.org/
Size: 9.28 MB
Supported OS: Windows 98/ME/NT/2k/XP/Vista, OS x, Various Linux distros License: Free for private and commercial use
Portability: Must be installed


GOM Player:
Download Site:
http://www.gomplayer.com/main.html
Size: 4.48 MB
Supported OS: Windows 98SE, Me, 2000, XP, 2003 or Vista License: Free for private and commercial use
Portability: Must be installed


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

2.9 Top Rated Commercial Media Player Now Free

As an alternative to a free media player you may wish to consider this free version of the full featured commercial player from J River. J River's Media Jukebox player has been around for a long and has a strong following. In recent times development has switched to their Media Center product, but J River has just updated their Media Jukebox to version 12 and made it available for free. It's audio only, but its feature set and usability are top-rank. Its library management features are  outstanding; it syncs to your iPod, has an integrated link to Amazon link for media purchasers and has flexible ripping options for all the most popular formats. Definitely worth checking out. Thanks to subscriber Dick Parker for the find. Freeware, Windows 98-Vista, 12.1MB
http://www.mediajukebox.com/

2.10 How to Copy Large Folders or Drives Unattended
Anyone who has ever copied a large folder or whole disk drive knows how annoying the warning messages from Windows can be. They are annoying because the copying stops until you respond to the warning. That means that you can't walk away from the PC for a coffee or whatever; you must hang around until it's finished. Ycopy [1] is a free utility that overcomes this problem by suppressing any messages during the copy and, instead, records them in a log file that's available at the end of the copy. No, it doesn't attempt recovery of damaged sectors like Unstoppable Copier [2] but at least it allows you to have that coffee :>) Many thanks to regular contributor JW for the find. Freeware, Windows 98-XP, 659KB.
[1] http://www.ruahine.com/
[2] http://www.roadkil.net/unstopcp.html


3.0 SECURITY PATCHES, SERVICE RELEASES AND UPDATES

3.1 Microsoft Security News

January's set of security patches from Microsoft contains just two fixes, one of which is rated as "important" and the other as "critical." If your PCs are set to download and install updates automatically then you should already be protected, but it's always a good idea to visit Microsoft's update website [1] occasionally and opt for an automatic check to ensure that you're not missing any important updates.

The "critical" rated patch, MS08-001, fixes a problem in the way the "Windows kernel processes TCP/IP structures that contain multicast and ICMP requests." The flaw could allow a Windows PC to be compromised simply by being connected to the internet and without any user action required. The flaw is rated "critical" for Windows XP and Vista systems but only "important" for Windows 2000 and 2003 server editions.

The "important" patch, MS08-002, affects Windows 2000 through to XP but not Vista. Microsoft says it "resolves a privately reported vulnerability in Microsoft Windows Local Security Authority Subsystem Service (LSASS). The vulnerability could allow an attacker to run arbitrary code with elevated privileges." This sounds worse than it is; the attack can only take place if the attacker has access to valid login information.

Further details of the Microsoft November updates can be found here [2]. All of 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 will require a considerable period of time online to be successfully downloaded. If you are not certain that you have received the updates, then visit the Microsoft Update Service [1] now.

[1] http://update.microsoft.com (Requires IE5 or later)
[2] http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/ms08-jan.mspx

3.2 Another Zero-day Exploit for Microsoft Excel
Security firm Secunia has reported [1] an "extremely critical" flaw in Microsoft Excel 2000/2002/2003 that could allow a user's PC to be compromised simple by opening a specially crafted Excel .XLS file. Rather disturbingly, the flaw also affects the Microsoft Excel Viewer 2003. It's disturbing because it means using viewers to open Office documents is no guarantee of protection. It appears that this exploit is currently being used against high value targets and is not yet in mass circulation. Even so, users should treat all email .xls attachments from unknown sources with caution. If you must open them do so in a sandbox or make use of Microsoft's free Isolated Conversion Environment [2] that automatically converts older Office formats (.xls, .doc, .pps etc) to the more secure Office 2007 Open XML format. The Isolated Conversion Environment only works with Office 2003 or later.
[1] http://secunia.com/advisories/28506/
[2] http://support.microsoft.com/kb/935865

3.3 Multiple Patches for Oracle Products
Oracle's latest batch of security updates, which it releases on a quarterly basis, appeared in January 2008 and contains 26 updates for various Oracle products, including the Oracle Database, Application Server, E-Business Suite, Collaboration Suite, and its PeopleSoft product line. All of the updates are described as critical, and Oracle is advising customers to install them as soon as possible.
http://www.oracle.com/technology/deploy/security/critical-patch-updates/cpujan2008.html

3.4 Another Set of Critical Flaws in Adobe Flash Player
Adobe has released fixes [1] for nine separate flaws in its popular Flash player. Some of these are extremely serious and could allow an attacker to seize control of your PC merely by visiting a hostile website. I strongly recommend that you visit the Adobe site [2] and update your flash player to version 9.0.115.0 or later. The player is available for Windows, Apple and Linux.
[1] http://www.adobe.com/support/security/bulletins/apsb07-20.html
[2] http://www.adobe.com/shockwave/download/download.cgi?P1_Prod_Version=ShockwaveFlash

3.5 New Sandbox from ZoneAlarm
CheckPoint Software, the developer of the popular ZoneAlarm firewall and security suite, has released a beta of a new virtualization product that allows users to surf safely while sandboxed off from their PC. Other features include privacy protection, anti-phishing, anti-keylogging and hostile download detection. On paper it sounds like a great solution to a pressing problem, but I'll suspend final judgment until I put the product through some tests.
http://download.zonealarm.com/bin/forcefield_x/index.html

3.6 Top Spam Filter Now Available for Thunderbird
The network-based Cloudmark spam filter has always been one of my favorite programs for removing spam. It has good spam detection rates, but its best feature is that it virtually never classifies your real mail as spam. Unfortunately, Cloudmark has only been available for Outlook and Outlook Express. Not any more; it's now available for the Thunderbird email client as well. Combine it with the Thunderbird's excellent built in Bayesian spam filter and I suspect spam in your in-box will become a rarity. It's not free - it costs $39.95 per year for a license covering two PCs. It's worth every cent; that's why I have it on my laptop and my wife's PC as well. Commercial software, trial available, Windows 2000-Vista, 3.5MB.
http://www.cloudmark.com/serviceproviders/media/releases/?release=2007-12-03

3.7 Free Virus Check Using Kaspersky
The Kaspersky anti-virus scanner is one of the most effective anti-virus scanners available. You can get the benefits of this power without buying and installing the product by using their free online scan [1]. It's not totally online, because you have to download a small program and a 9MB signature file as well. It's well worth the effort, though, just to make sure no nasties have sneaked past your security software. Note that you need Internet Explorer for this because it uses ActiveX controls.
Subscriber Rick Farrow has written to let me know about another way of using Kaspersky for free. The company is now offering a trial version of their scanner called S.O.S. [2]. They claim that you can install S.O.S concurrently with your existing virus scanner and compare results. Normally running two AV scanners together is not a good idea so let's hope Kaspersky has done their homework. However you can uninstall S.O.S. by disabling protection and running the program unins0000exe in the S.O.S. folder.
[1] http://www.kaspersky.com/kos/eng/partner/default/kavwebscan.html#
[2] http://usa.kaspersky.com/products_services/free-virus-scanner.php

3.8 Viruses on the Decline - Social Networks the Next Target
AVG Research has released an interesting report on the changing malware landscape. According to AVG, viruses now account for less than 15% of total threats, with phishing scams, backdoor worms, Trojans, keyloggers, spyware, adware and web-based exploits making up the rest. For 2008 AVG predicts an increase in the number of web attacks on legitimate web sites, particularly social network sites, in order to use these sites for the illegal capture of user data and for the propagation of malware. Folks, over the last year I have been advising you to run your browser in a sandbox or with reduced rights. This is one of the reasons why. In the future you may not be able to assume that those "trusted" websites you visit have not been temporarily compromised.
http://www.avg.com.au/index.cfm?section=news&feature=83

3.9 Recoding Industry Dirty Tricks Exposed
MediaDefender is a company paid by the entertainment industry and other content owners to poison P2P downloads of copyright material. Its practices have long been held in poor repute but its reputation got a further setback after a leakage of internal MediaDefender email revealed that the company had been involved in an entrapment plan called MiiVi. MediaDefender had previously denied any connection with MiiVi, but the truth has now been exposed. Read the full article [1] for the juicy details as well as this follow-up [2]. Thanks to Lex Davidson for the links.
[1] http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070916-leaked-media-defender-e-mails-reveal-secret-government-project.html
[2] http://www.chillingeffects.org/weather.cgi?WeatherID=593

3.10 Corrigenda - HxD Binary Editor
In the September 2007 issue I mistakenly stated that Dario Valenzo was the author of the excellent HxD binary editor / disk editor. It was, in fact, Maël Hörz
http://www.mh-nexus.de/hxd/

3.11 Changes to Premium Edition Subscription Conditions

I've made two changes to the conditions that apply to your premium subscription:

First your subscription guarantee now reads:

"If you are not completely satisfied with your subscription to Support Alert Premium I will refund your subscription in full, no questions asked, within 30 days of your initial subscription. If you cancel after 30 days you will receive a pro rata refund of your subscription fee in proportion to the number of issues you have received compared to your subscription entitlement. So, for example, if you have received 3 issues out of 12 you will receive a 75% refund of your subscription fee."

Second I've changed the conditions relating to advertisements. In the past there were no ads in the Premium edition. This will not apply to the future. From now on the Premium edition will contain advertisements; however, my past policy of clearly flagging advertisements to distinguish them from editorial content will remain in place. If there are ads in future issues they will be clearly marked as such.

These new conditions are already in effect for new premium subscriptions. They will apply to all existing premium subscriptions from the first of February 2008. If you don't wish to accept these new conditions you can un-subscribe using the directions at the end of this newsletter.


4.0 OTHER USEFUL STUFF

4.1 A Quality 4GB Flash Drive for $19.95
Buy.com is currently making this offer on 4GB Kingston Traveler drives. I suspect that the day when we get these drives free in Corn Flakes boxes is not far away.
http://www.buy.com/retail/product.asp?sku=204134644&adid=17070&dcaid=17070

4.2 The Meaning of Avast!
Avast! is a popular free anti-virus program. It's a strange name that's made even stranger by the exclamation mark at the end, but it now makes total sense, after I received this explanation from subscriber Andrew Fung. Andrew, who has a seafaring background, notes "In a maritime context 'avast' means specifically, to stop or cease what you are doing immediately lest you endanger yourself, your shipmates or the ship. Usually it is a command given by the Master (aka Captain) or the highest ranking officer on watch. It's a great name for an anti-virus software program."
http://www.avast.com/

4.3 See the Future of Computing Now
There seems little doubt that, in the future, many of us will be using web based applications rather than running software on our own PCs. Indeed, if you are using Webmail, Google Apps, or even Flickr, you are already on the way. The apps are not the problem; the real challenge is to integrate web apps into the desktop and provide offline as well as online access. There are several competing platforms to make this happen and the path forward is not yet clear, but if you want to see what is happening, check out the Prism project at Mozilla Labs. This is exciting stuff.
http://labs.mozilla.com/2007/10/prism/

4.4 How to Stop Flash Movies/Ads on Websites Playing Automatically
I hate it; you visit a website and some unwanted Flash movie starts playing automatically. You can fix this by blocking Flash altogether, but that's cutting off your nose to spite your face. A better solution is to use the free Firefox "Stop Autoplay" extension. It not only stops movies from playing automatically, it also gives you the option of playing them if you wish.
http://hemiolapei.free.fr/divers/sap/sap-en.html

4.5 Useless Waste of Time Department
Stunning, awesome; what can you say? You simply must check out these examples of how modern computer games employ the laws of physics to give lifelike effects. Thanks to subscriber Lex Davidson for sending this in.
http://www.guru3d.com/newsitem.php?id=6231


** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.6 Learn How to Draw
The sheer brilliance of the latest Web 2.0 and Flash-based sites continues to amaze me, and here's a great example. Rate My Drawings provides you with an online vector-based drawing tool with which you can create your masterpiece and save it online for others to view and rate. One clever feature is that, as you draw, the site creates a video recording of your activity, so when you view other users' drawings you can actually see a speeded-up playback of them being created. Fascinating to watch, and a great way to learn how to draw. If you're going to submit a drawing you'll probably find that a graphics tablet is an essential accessory though, as a mouse just isn't quite up to the job.
http://www.ratemydrawings.com/


4.7 How to Backup Your Data Online Cheaply

Subscriber Marx, Jean-Denis writes:

"Gizmo your review of online backup systems missed one of the most attractive items: Amazon S3 [1] combined with JungleDisk [2].

Amazon S3 is very cheap (I pay approximately US$2 a month for 5 GB) and fully scalable; you pay only for the volume you use. S3 cannot be accessed and used directly so I use JungleDisk for that purpose.

JungleDisk mounts the S3 as an external drive which can be accessed normally through Windows Explorer JungleDisk performs automatic or manual backups of the directories or files designated by the user. JungleDisk can keep deleted and modified files on S3 (time machine function) or ensure that the two drives are in sync.

JungleDisk is not free; it costs $20 but that's a once-up cost. Besides, you can try it for free for 30 days"

This is an excellent find, Jean-Denis, that provides an economical online backup system that works seamlessly. Although Amazon S3 is not the easiest account to set up, most users should be able to muddle their way through the rather jargon-ridden setup procedure.

JungleDisk backup does not offer as wide a set of options as some of the online backup services, but it works very well. I also like the fact that JungleDisk provides free lifetime upgrades. Useful too is the fact they have versions for Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as a portable USB version.

They also sell a $1 per month add-on "Plus" service that provides web access to your backup files and allows true differential backup. The latter means that only the changed parts of large files are uploaded rather than the whole file. This feature should cut down on bandwidth use considerably. I say "should" as I didn't test it.

But by far the most attractive aspect is the "pay only for what you use" pricing offered by Amazon S3. For many users, this alone will justify the use of the service. The availability of a portable version for your USB flash drive is another plus; I can see this as being very handy for some users.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/gp/browse.html?node=16427261
[2] http://www.jungledisk.com

4.8 Best Free Portable Applications
Subscriber Matt Perkins has sent in a well researched list [1] of portable programs for your USB flash drive. Many of these are portable versions of programs I feature on my 46 Best-ever Freeware list [2]. Matt's done a nice job of this but be aware that I haven't tested every program mentioned.
[1] http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-portable-programs.htm
[2] http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm



5.0 TIP OF THE MONTH

5.1 How to Create a Bootable Rescue CD

Sooner or later it will happen to you. One day you'll turn on your PC and it won't boot. No matter how many times you desperately retry, Windows simply won't start up. All the time you will be thinking "why didn't I backup my data."

The good news is your data is probably OK; it's just that you can't get to it. Unless of course your hard drive has died. In that case maybe you really should have backed up your data :>)

Assuming your hard drive is OK, you can access your data and copy it onto removable media or another PC using a bootable rescue CD. With a bit of luck you may even be able to use the rescue CD to fix the problem with your PC and get Windows to boot again.

A rescue CD works by allowing you to launch an operating system directly from the CD so you don't need Windows to be running on your PC. From that CD-based operating system you can then access your hard drive and all your files.
There are lots of rescue CDs available based on different disk-based operating systems. Some use DOS or a DOS clone such as FreeDOS. Others use Linux, but my favorites CDs make use of a cut down version of Windows called the Windows pre-installation environment, the best known of which is Bart's PE [1].

Of the half dozen or so rescue CDs I have in my tool kit, the one I use most frequently is UBCD4Win [2]. It's a Windows-based CD that uses Bart's PE Builder to create the operating system. What I like about it is the huge range of tools included. Yes, you can set up a Bart's PE disk yourself with the same tools or even more, but it's not a simple process, while UBCD4Win comes ready to go.

One of the many valuable tools on the CD is the free imaging program, DriveImageXML, that allows users to create and restore images of their disk drives.

It is particularly valuable because it allows you restore an image of the drive containing Windows even if your Windows system is not booting. For this to work, though, you must have created an image before your system failed. That's a topic I covered in this month's editorial.

You can even setup UBCD4Win to boot from a flash drive, providing of course that your computer's BIOS supports USB drive booting. Personally I think you are better off with a CD. CD booting is supported by all but the most ancient PCs and a CD is only marginally less convenient to carry than a flash drive.

By far the easiest way to create a bootable UBCD4Win rescue CD is to order the preparation CD from the UBCD4Win website [3]. It contains everything you need except the Windows installation CD that came with your PC. Note that the preparation CD is not a complete ready-to-go boot CD but rather the components you need to build one. However, full instructions are included. At $5.95 for US customers and $7.95 International it's a bargain. Hey, you even get a free CD burner program thrown in!

If you are too impatient to wait for the CD to arrive by snail-mail or too stingy to pay the $5.95 then you can download the various files from the UBCD4Win website [2]. The instructions on the website are excellent. Be aware, though, that the download is around 230 MB and the boot CD building requires around 2.5 GB of free disk space.

If files that big sound too daunting then try one of the many Linux based rescue disks [4]. Many are smaller and simpler to set up; just download the ISO file and burn it to a CD. The popular Ultimate Boot CD [5] for example is an 87 MB download. Usage though can be a little daunting for those not used to the Linux environment but there's an excellent Linux rescue disk guide for Windows users here [6].

Whatever option you choose, do take the trouble to set up a bootable rescue CD. One day you will need it. This, I can assure you.

[1] http://www.nu2.nu/pebuilder/
[2] http://www.ubcd4win.com/
[3] http://www.ubcd4win.com/ordering.htm
[4] http://www.frozentech.com/content/livecd.php
[5] http://ubcd.sourceforge.net/
[6] http://www.shockfamily.net/cedric/knoppix/


6.0 FREEBIE OF THE MONTH

6.1 The Best Free Minimizer

This review was prepared by subscriber Joe Bennett as a part of his contribution to the new Wiki style "46 Best-ever Freeware List." Joe is one of 25 or so subscribers who have volunteered to act as software category editors for the project. If you feel you would like to assist as well you can get more details here. Here is his edited review:

If you are like me you probably have lots of different programs running on your PC at the same time. If so you'll know how quickly your task bar can become a confusing mess of many different programs.

A great solution to this mess is to minimize programs, not to a bar in the taskbar, but to an icon in the system notification tray. This takes up much less space and is also a more effective way of quickly switching between programs. (The system notification tray is, by the way, the fancy term for the right hand side of your taskbar.)

Some applications have an inbuilt feature that allows minimizing to an icon, but most don't. Enter the application minimizer. Each of the free minimizer programs listed here allows you to send any of your programs to the system tray instead of the task bar.

The product that impressed me most is TrayIt! [1]. First, it requires no installation; just double click the program file and it's up and running. Second, it can minimize open windows to the tray either temporarily or permanently with just one click. Third, it handles "difficult" windows such as skins with ease. Fourth, it works with all versions of Windows (95 through Vista). Fifth, it's a tiny 44KB! Finally, it's free. A little gem.

A good alternative is PowerMenu [2]. It works slightly differently because it gives the option to minimize to system tray on a context menu rather than by using the Ctrl key. It also has additional options to keep the window always on top and also set priority and transparency. Like Trayit!, it doesn't need to be installed. However, PowerMenu hasn't been updated for some time and has some features that only work for Windows NT and later.

4T Tray Free [3] is another option. It is the only one of the programs reviewed that allows you to minimize programs to the system tray in multiple ways, either by using keyboard shortcuts or by clicking on additional buttons on the applications title bar. This feature alone will make it an attractive option for some people. It is highly configurable, easy to use and very intuitive. However, unlike the TrayIt! and PowerMenu, it is not portable and needs to be installed before use.
 

[1] TrayIt!
Website:
http://tinyurl.com/2wfjb (Editor's note: I've used a tinyurl link as McAfee Site Advisor incorrectly rates this site as "red." The site itself is fine though there are links to other sites that are not OK.  You can however download TrayIt! with confidence - Gizmo)
Author: Igor Nys
Date: 7/26/2007
Version: 2.11.11 (Stable), 4.6.5.1 (Release Candidate) Download File size: 35 kb
License: Freeware
Operating systems supported: Windows 95-Vista
64 Bit Capable: No
Portable version available: Yes
Other languages supported: Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish

[2] PowerMenu
Website:
http://www.veridicus.com/tummy/programming/powermenu/
Author: Thong Nguyen
Date: 11/23/2002
Version: 1.5.1
Download File size:
License: Freeware
Operating systems supported: 95-Vista
64 Bit Capable: No
Portable version available: Yes
Other languages supported: None

[3] 4T Tray Minimizer Free
Website: - -
http://www.4t-niagara.com/tray.html
Author: 4T Niagra Software
Date: 3/24/2007
Version: 4.40
Download File size: 801 kb
License: Free for Personal Use
Operating systems supported: Windows 95-Vista
64 Bit Capable: No
Portable version available: No
Other languages supported: None

*** Bonus Freebie in this Premium Edition ***

6.2 How to Run Your CDs/DVDs Without the Disks

CD/DVD emulators are programs that allow you to run games, encyclopedias, DVDs etc without having the physical CD or DVD loaded in your CD drive. They work by creating virtual CD/DVD drives on your hard disks. You can then run an image file of the application directly from the virtual drive.

It's a nice idea offering not only convenience but often much better performance, but there's a problem: copy protection. Many software vendors simply don't want you to be able run their products without the physical CD/DVD because they fear this will lead to their products being pirated.

However, copy protection hasn't stopped developers from writing CD/DVD emulators that bypass or overcome the copy protection.

They do this with varying degrees of success. There are many forms of copy protection and no CD/DVD emulator that I'm aware of can handle all of them.

This means that in practice you may have to try several emulators to find one that works with a particular CD or DVD, though it's also possible that none will.

Thankfully though, most CDs and DVDs can be played by many emulators so you are only going to strike this problem occasionally.

The best known freeware emulator is the whimsically named "Alcohol" [1]. It comes in two strengths; 52% which is freeware and a 120% version that is shareware. Many gamers swear by it but I've had CDs that have stumped it.

Another option is MagicDisc [2], [3]. It's a freeware program that handles over a dozen different image file formats. Unfortunately, it can't create ISO images, one of the most widely used of all disk image formats. For that you need MagicDisc's commercial sibling called Magic ISO Maker or a freeware tool such as ISO Recorder [4].

Daemon tools [5] produce a capable free emulator but I'm reluctant to recommend it because of the adware that is included. Yes, you can uninstall the adware from Windows Control Panel, but I just don't like this model for distributing software.

So overall there is no perfect freeware solution. If I had to choose one I'd probably choose two ;>) I'd use both Alcohol 52% and MagicDisc. Between them they pretty well cover all your disk emulation needs.

[1] http://trial.alcohol-soft.com/en/alcohol_info.php Freeware, Windows NT-XP, 6.7MB
[2] http://www.magiciso.com/tutorials/miso-magicdisc-overview.htm Windows 98-Vista, 1.24MB
[3] http://www.download.com/3000-7970_4-10723083.html <= MagicDisc download
[4] http://isorecorder.alexfeinman.com/isorecorder.htm Freeware, Windows XP-Vista, 360KB
[5] http://www.daemon-tools.cc/dtcc/download.php?mode=ViewCategory&catid=5 Adware, Windows 2000-Vista, 3.4MB

7.0 MANAGE YOUR SUBSCRIPTION

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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 Roger Keeny for copy-editing this issue. If you have a need for such services, contact Roger at liddlebigboy@gmail.com. Thanks also to "Oblias" and Maurice Rich for additional editing assistance.

For convenience North American subscribers can contact this newsletter by snail mail at:

Support Alert
PO Box 243
Comstock Park, MI 49321-0243 USA

Support Alert is a registered online serial publication ISSN 1448-7020. Content of this newsletter is (c) Copyright Support Alert Ltd, 2008.

See you next issue. Next month's issue will be published on the Thursday the 21st of February, 2008.

Gizmo
Ian Richards
editor@techsupportalert.com