gizmo richards' support alert newsletter

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

Premium Edition
156, 17th April,2008

If you experience problems reading this issue in your email program you can read this issue online from the Supporters' Area here:


0. EDITORIAL: Do you really need a spyware scanner?


1.1 No Change to Gizmo's Website Name
1.2 Invitation to Test Gizmo's New Website
1.3 Great List of Free "Abandoned" Software
1.4 Free Online Whiteboard
1.5 How to Sync Gmail with Outlook
1.6 FolderShare Reborn
1.7 Why Vista Still Sucks
1.8 Get Directory Assistance for Free (Premium Edition)
1.9 Open DNS Explained (Premium Edition)
1.10 USB Flash Drives Reviewed

2.1 The Best Free Portable Applications
2.2 Free Utility Recovers Deleted Photos
2.3 Text to Speech Revisited
2.4 Free Text to Speech Plug-ins
2.5 How to Identify and Fix Dead Pixels
2.6 Briard's Brief History of the PC
2.7 Convert Camcorder Videos to DVD Widescreen Using Freeware (Premium)
2.8 The Best Free Folder Hiding Utility (Premium Edition)
2.9 Utility Converts Normal Programs to Portable Versions (Premium)
3.1 Microsoft Security News
3.2 Vista SP1 Finally Released, XP SP3 to Follow
3.3 Critical Update to Adobe Flash Player
3.4 Is your ISP Selling Your Browsing History?
3.5 Fixing Defecting Software May be "Theft"
4.1 Get the 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities on CD
4.2 Support Alert Subscribers Sniff out Best USB Deals
4.3 Good Tech Blog
4.4 Free HDR Alignment Tool
4.5 How to Make Booklets from PDF Files
4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department
4.7 Learn to Touch Type for Free (Premium Edition)
4.8 How to Generate .htaccess Files the Easy Way (Premium Edition)
4.9 How to Get Exactly What you Want (Premium Edition)
5.1 How to Convert PDF Files to Word Doc Files for Free
6.1 Best Free Audio Editing Software
6.2 A Free Program That Identifies Problems with Your PC (Premium)


It was a good question; one that needed to be asked and definitely one that needed to be answered:

"Gizmo, each day my anti-virus scanner updates its signatures, my anti-spyware program updates its signatures as does my anti-trojan program. It seems to me they are all doing the same thing so why don't we have just one program that does the lot?"

Indeed, why not? Why do we have separate anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-trojan programs anyway?

The answer to that question lies in the history of computer security, and it's a very interesting history indeed.

In 2003 I tested Norton, McAfee and a few other AV scanners against a large batch of trojans, and their detection performance was very poor. Only Kaspersky AV performed creditably.

Yes, in those days you needed a specialist anti-trojan scanner to catch a trojan.

That's because these new-generation trojans used some sneaky tricks like process injection and polymorphism to avoid detection. Simple signature-based AV file scanners had little chance of catching them. You needed smarter, more powerful detection techniques. The then-emerging class of anti-trojan programs employed these techniques and that's why they were so much more effective against the trojan threat.

So we all needed anti-trojan programs on our computers.

The historical situation with anti-spyware programs was a little different. It may surprise some readers to learn that anti-spyware programs originally emerged not so much to combat spyware, but rather to remove advertising from software. This history is reflected in the names of these early products, such as Ad-Aware.

The AV programs at that time couldn't remove adware. Not because they weren't able to do so, but rather because the AV vendors didn't see adware as a security threat. Additionally, there was a view at that time that removing ads from advertising-supported products was somewhere between unethical and illegal. A view which was, I might say, more widely held among software developers than consumers :>)

But times changed. Adware moved from being annoying but benign to being actively intrusive. Products like Gator emerged that gathered information from consumers and reported it back to the vendors, often without any agreement or knowledge of the user. All of a sudden spying became the problem, not advertising. And while adware may not have been considered a threat, spyware certainly was.

The AV developers were not prepared for this, but the anti-adware vendors were. They changed and upgraded their products and re-positioned them as an essential defense against the new emerging spyware threat.

So now we all needed an anti-spyware scanner in addition to an anti-trojan scanner and an AV scanner. Computer security had suddenly become a boom industry.

But recently the smiles have been disappearing from the faces of security software vendors. The emergence of new hostile products such as blended threats that variously combined viruses, worms, trojans and spyware into a single product has blurred the neat boundary between different types of computer security threat. We have entered into the age of malware.

To survive, security vendors have had to respond by expanding their product's capabilities. Take the case of Ewido. It started life as an anti-trojan program. As spyware became more prominent Ewido started targeting spyware in addition to trojans. Finally, it was bought by the security developer AVG to bolster their anti-virus products.

And you can see the same trend across the whole security industry. Every computer security developer wants their product to address all security threats, not just individual categories of threat. Indeed, just today as I was writing this editorial I received a press release saying the Avast! AV program has been expanded to include anti-spyware and anti-rootkit features.

So today, what's the difference between a modern anti-spyware program like WebRoot SpySweeper with its newly-acquired anti-virus capabilities and a modern anti-virus program such as Norton 360 which has anti-spyware capabilities?

The answer is "not a lot." In essence, they are both now anti-malware scanners.

So do you still need an AV program plus an anti-spyware program and an anti-trojan scanner?

For the majority of average users the answer is no. A single competent broad spectrum anti-malware product is enough. My recommendations here include AntiVir, NOD32, Kaspersky, BitDefender, Norton and a few others.

Of course, not everyone is an average user. Users who engage in high risk activities, like sourcing their software from P2P services, should load up their PC with all the protection they can get. Similarly, there are users for whom the best possible protection is paramount, regardless of cost or performance implications. Finally, users of freeware scanners who cannot afford a premium product may be well advised to use more than one signature-based scanner.

However, for average users who are prepared to invest in a top anti-malware scanner, one signature-based product is enough. The small increment in protection offered by having multiple signature based scanners is simply not worth the financial cost, operational hassle and the reduction in computer performance.

If you want to increase your security, you are much better off putting the effort into other initiatives, such as safer computing practices, a good firewall with a built-in HIPS or using a sandbox for surfing. And you can do this without spending a cent. For details on how to do this, check out this article:

What I have said in this editorial is the opposite of what I advised you a few years back. That's because times have changed; the security threats are different, as are the security products available. When circumstances change, I change my opinion; so should you.

It's in the interests of computer security product vendors to create a climate of fear, because it helps them sell their products. That fear is not without some justification, but fear should not be allowed to turn into paranoia.

These days, when I receive letters from subscribers telling me how they have loaded up their PCs with six or eight different signature based scanners, I can only wince. This is a victory for the fear mongers and a defeat for the forces of reason.

See you next month.



1.1 No Change to Gizmo's Website Name

Last month I asked subscribers to vote on whether I should change my website name from "" to "". Many thanks to the thousands of folks who voted.

The vote was in favor of change but I'm not going to do it. I was swayed in this decision by the 500 plus emails I got from subscribers asking me not to change.

The main argument used in these emails was that "" is a great name for anyone who knows my site from my popular "46 Best-ever Freeware" list [1] but it makes no sense at all for anyone else.

Another argument was that any new name simple must include "Gizmo", regardless of possible legal issues. Others simply evoked the maxim "if it's not broken it doesn't need fixing."

So I'm persuaded. I'm sticking with the old name. Thanks again to all those who voted and wrote in.

But the "" name is not being wasted. I'm currently using it for the brand new wiki-style version of "", which is about to go live. In fact, I want you to test it. See the next item for details.


1.2 Invitation to Test Gizmo's New Website

Regular readers will be aware that about 35 volunteers and I have been building a new wiki-style website to replace the current site.

The idea is to create a "best-ever freeware" list, based on my current lists, but updatable and expandable by site visitors as well as the volunteer editors and myself - a kind of WikiPedia for freeware.

A prototype of the new site is now up and running. In the end we didn't go with a Wiki; we used Drupal, a popular free Content Management System (CMS) instead.

With Drupal, registered site visitors can still edit the content in the same way as a WikiPedia article, but the results are moderated to ensure the highest standard. Additionally, any site visitor can add blog-style comments at the end of each review.

The new site has some really big advantages for users:

  • There is now only one freeware list, because the "46 Best-ever Freeware" list and "Extended list" have been combined into one big list of 120+ software categories.
  • You can now locate software more quickly because it is indexed by broad classes of software. So, if you are looking for a firewall, simply click "Security Software"
  • You can read users comments and suggestions in addition to our reviews.

I'd like you to test out the new site by going here [1] and checking out the best freeware section. You can check out other parts of the site too, such as the tutorials and how-tos, but only the freeware section is 100% complete.

What I'd really like you to do is make some comments at the end of the individual software reviews. You don't need to register to make comments.

Additionally, if you see areas where the reviews themselves could be improved, then register at the site and edit the reviews.

Please do this even if you just see some spelling or punctuation errors that need correcting, or you find dead links or other out-of-date information. And of course, if you feel a review has missed a great product, then by all means add it in. Note that to edit a review you need to register at the site (it's free). Note too that all edits are moderated to ensure that quality is maintained.

So that's it, guys and gals. Go check out the prototype of the new site; I think you'll love it. If it gets your approval, it will go live in May. As it's only a prototype please don't post the URL to forums and other public lists. Wait until the site goes live next month.


1.3 Great List of Free "Abandoned" Software
This is a very interesting list [1] of software that is no longer being sold and is now free. A lot of the products are old DOS programs, but there are some quite recent apps as well, plus a good selection of classic games. Thanks to subscriber Dave Berger for the link. Note: I can't vouch for these downloads, so initially install them in a sandbox or submit them to Jotti [2] for testing prior to installation

1.4 Free Online Whiteboard
Subscriber Philip McMahon writes "Gizmo, with Thinkature [1] you can create a collaborative workspace and invite co-workers, friends and colleagues to join you in just seconds. Once inside your workspace, you can communicate by chatting, drawing, creating cards and adding content from around the Internet. It's all synchronous, too - no need to hit reload or get an editing lock."

1.5 How to Sync Gmail With Outlook
Here's a neat way for Outlook users to backup their data using a Gmail account. Apart from backup, it allows you to access your Outlook email via Gmail, and to access your Gmail mail via Outlook.

1.6 FolderShare Reborn
FolderShare is a free web service that allows you to automatically synchronize and/or share files in a given folder across multiple computers. It also allows you access to these files from any computer. It was a great service until Microsoft acquired the company a couple of years ago and since then it has slowly faded while other similar services have moved forward. Now Microsoft has finally unveiled an updated version of the product plus a new website. Thanks to subscriber Adriel Luo for the letting me know.

1.7 Why Vista Still Sucks
This article [1] from ExtremeTech is hard hitting; so hard hitting I can only assume Microsoft no longer advertises on their site ;>) My own views are a little more moderate; I regard Vista as a bitter disappointment but still viable if you are prepared to tweak it along the lines suggested by Briard [2]. That said, the only copy in use in my office is the one on my wife's PC. That's largely because so many of the software products I use or test simply don't work with Vista, a situation which has not improved with the release of Vista SP1. Thanks to regular subscriber JW for the article link.

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1.8 Get Directory Assistance for Free
Here's an alternative to paying your Telco for 411 directory assistance. Google is now running a free service using voice recognition technology that allows you to locate a business in a given locality and then connects you directly without additional charges. See the 90-second Google promotional video here [1]. At the moment it's only available in the USA and Canada. Thanks to subscriber Keith Richmond for the link.

1.9 Open DNS Explained
I've mentioned the free OpenDNS service [1] several times in this newsletter as a good way of speeding up your browsing and filtering content. Every time I mention it I get subscriber email asking me to explain the idea. Here's a video [2] about OpenDNS that will help those of you who do not understand the technology to better grasp the concept of DNS, how OpenDNS works and how it can be configured.

1.10 USB Flash Drives Reviewed
PC Magazine is carrying a review of five 4GB flash drives that includes speed tests. Their "Editor's Choice" goes to the SanDisk Cruzer, but I'd find it hard to justify paying $70 for a 4GB drive just because it's marginally faster.,2817,2278030,00.asp

Got some top sites to suggest? Send them to:


2.1 The Best Free Portable Applications

This is an important item. It's not only about a great new portable apps list, it's also your chance make a contribution to the internet community.

I've asked subscriber Matt Perkins to compile a "starter list" of the "46 Best-ever Free Portable Programs", and this very basic list is now online [1] on my new wiki-style website.

Rather than just read Matt's list, I'd like you to make you own contribution using the features of the new website.
You can contribute by adding some comments at the bottom of the page or by registering at the site and directly editing Matt's list.

The plan is to pool the huge collective wisdom of Support Alert subscribers and create a really outstanding list of portable applications that everyone can use as a guide and an on-going resource.

Even if you can't make a suggestion, you can help by adding some download links to Matt's list.

The more of you who contribute, the better the end result for all of us. So come on, guys and gals, jump in and lend a hand! Together, we can create the best-ever free portable apps list on the internet.

2.2 Free Utility Recovers Deleted Photos
Everyone who owns a digital camera knows that terrible feeling when you have just deleted a photo you really wanted to keep. The good news is that the deleted photo can usually be recovered, provided you don't take any more photos. In fact, the process of recovery is very similar to recovering a file on your PC that you accidentally deleted. Indeed, quite often you can use the same program to undelete your photos that you use to undelete PC files. The free utility Recuva is an example of a program that will do both jobs. Another possibility is to use the specialist freeware photo recovery utility called PhotoRecovery that was suggested to me by subscriber Bill Butlin. The advantage of PhotoRecovery is that it's easier to use for the specific task of un-deleting photos, and has some useful features such as the option of not recovering thumbnails. It's quite a nice program to have on hand for those occasions when you really do need to undelete a special photograph. Freeware, all Windows versions, 3.0MB

2.3 Text to Speech Revisited
My coverage of text-to-speech (TTS) utilities in issue #155 [1] prompted more than 20 subscribers to write in about their experiences and preferences. Topping the list of favored products was Natural Reader [1]. This is available in a free version, plus two commercial versions priced at $39.50 and $99.50. Frankly, the free version was a disappointment; it just uses a standard Microsoft "voice" and doesn't integrate with your applications. However, the $39.50 version comes with a high quality AT&T "voice" of your choosing (including non-English voices) and is fully integrated into Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader, MS Word, Outlook and PowerPoint. The speech replay rate is adjustable, and it can also record to MP3 or WAV files for later replay - just the thing for recording this newsletter onto CD for replay in your car! The voice quality is excellent; check out the website and have a listen to the demo. On the downside there is no Firefox plug-in, there is no trial version offered and the AT&T voice takes up 600MB! Thanks to all the subscribers who wrote in. Commercial software, Windows 98->Vista.

2.4 Free Text-to-Speech Plug-ins

Here are some freebies. They all just use the standard robotic sounding Microsoft voices, but you can't complain at the price.

The first is CLiCk [1], an open source plug-in for Firefox. It has multi-language capabilities and supports a number of standard TTS interfaces, which means that you can install a wide range of commercial voices to replace the free but maddening Microsoft voice. Installation is straightforward, provided you read the instructions. Usage is wonderfully simple; just click an icon to start reading a webpage from the cursor location or a highlighted block of text. Press another icon to stop. I couldn't find any recording ability, though.

There is another Firefox extension called SpokenText [2] that will record to your disk but that's all; it can't read text like CLiCk. The voice quality is good because it uses a web service for the conversion, but that also means you need to be online to use it.

Windows XP comes with a standard feature called "Narrator" that will read any open Window, including Internet Explorer. Although standard in XP, it has to be set up for it to function; details can be found here [3], [4]. I played with it a while back and was under-whelmed with the voice quality. I've read that the Vista version of Narrator is an improvement, but frankly I haven't tried it.

Subscriber Radan Vasulin wrote in to point out that the Opera browser has in-built text-to-voice capability. It's not a standard feature; you do need to install the voice add-in [5]. Again, it just uses the Microsoft voices, but in this case you can't plug in higher quality commercial voices.


2.5 How to Identify and Fix Dead Pixels
Subscriber "David in Mississippi" writes "Gizmo, here's a small program that allows you to check your LCD screen for dead pixels. A dead pixel can be black, white, or stuck on any color. It can be caused by a mote of dust in the manufacturing process or a small bump on the screen. And many LCD manufacturers will replace one under warranty if it has a certain number of dead pixels. However, before you can claim on your warranty you need to know if you have any. Because dead pixels can be any color, you need to look for them against several different colors on screen. This 288KB utility [1] allows you to do just that. This program runs directly from the .exe file, requiring no installation, making it perfect for thumb drive utility sets. Also, while the website lists it as working on Windows 98/Me/2000/XP, I just tried it on Vista and it works fine."
Thanks for that, David. Subscribers may be interested in knowing that it is possible to "un-stick" dead pixels. This site [2] shows you how. The claimed success rate is around 60%.

2.6 Briard's Brief History of the PC
If you have lived through the PC revolution this is a "must" read and if you haven't, it's a "should" read. It's funny, it's nostalgic, it's informative; it's classic Briard. If nothing else, just check out the amazing photos.

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2.7 Convert Camcorder Videos to DVD Widescreen Using Freeware

Subscriber Scott Chase writes:

"Gizmo, I've found a great freeware program called "DVD Flick" that has helped me to solve a long-standing problem. I've been trying to find an easy-to-use set of freeware programs, to get video from my widescreen camcorder to a true anamorphic (widescreen) DVD format, like the widescreen movies produced by the major studios. Here's how I now do it:

  1. Video capture using software that came with the camcorder, or VirtualDub [1]
  2. Video file pre-processing, like contrast and brightness using VirtualDub as needed
  3. Video editing using Pinnacle VideoSpin [2] with a $5 Mpeg2 codec for full 720x480 DVD quality
  4. DVD authoring/burning using DVD Flick

The first three steps can be done with VirtualDub but I especially like the addition of Pinnacle's easy-to-use VideoSpin that you mentioned in your March newsletter.

DVD Flick is a very simple, and yet powerful DVD Authoring/Burning tool. It supports over 45 video codecs, has an easy-to-use interface, and an accurate way of creating and burning a true studio-style DVD, with IFO and VOB files from various video sources.

The big advantage to this software is its emphasis on preserving the native aspect ratio of the original source files.
Much of the DVD authoring software I found would write my anamorphic widescreen, 720x480 non-square pixels files as a 4:3 ratio, square pixel DVD which would stretch the video vertically and distort the DVD video.
Anyone that has worked with 16:9 anamorphic video sources knows what I'm talking about. DVD Flick is the only freeware program that I could find that does the job easily and flawlessly!"

[1] Freeware, Windows 2000->Vista, 7.2MB
[2] Freeware, all Windows versions, 1.3MB
[3] Freeware, Windows XP, Vista, 2.3MB

2.8 The Best Free Folder Hiding Utility

The program I have been recommending for some time as the best in this category is Free Hide Folder [1] but subscriber Alexander Powell has come up with something better. That program is called My Lockbox, and it overcomes one of the main weaknesses in Free Hide Folder, namely that the contents of hidden folders may be still accessible to Windows Search and other programs. In other words, the folder is hidden but the contents are not.

The feature list on the My Lockbox website is impressive:

  • Almost any folder on your computer can be password protected
  • Instant protection - no file scrambling or moving to another place
  • Lockbox folder is inaccessible even by the system administrators
  • Lockbox folder is inaccessible both locally and remotely.
  • Lockbox folder can be protected in Windows safe mode
  • Windows XP x64 support
  • Hotkeys support - you can popup Control Panel with a simple keystroke.
  • Skinned user interface

I tried it on a test machine and it performed as advertised. I would, however, suggest that you read the Quick-start Guide on the website and be careful setting up this program, otherwise you might find yourself in deep trouble.

Another note of caution: don't protect important Windows folders such as "My Documents", otherwise you will really cause problems. Just password protect folders you have created that are located outside of standard Windows folders.

If you set up this program carefully and follow my advice on the folders you protect, you will be rewarded with an outstanding product. Freeware, Windows 2000->Vista, 1.26MB

2.9 Free Utility Converts Normal Programs to Portable Versions
I've tried a couple of programs that make this claim and found them to be only partly effective. They work with some programs but not with others. This one, suggested by subscriber "Torrente," proved to be a little more reliable. It's called "Portable Builder" [1] and it works by using an AutoIt3 script and RegShot to monitor an application installation. It then uses the registry change information to create a portable version. It's not entirely straightforward, but is well within the scope of experienced Windows users, provided you read the notes and watch the video [2]. If your expectation for success is not set too high, you will find a lot to like here. Note that the RapidShare download link for Portable Builder is not working. Use this one [3] instead. Freeware, Windows 2000, XP, Vista (with UAC disabled), 328KB


3.1 Microsoft Security News

The Microsoft "Patch Tuesday" in April resulted in the release of eight security bulletins [1], five of which were rated "critical" by Microsoft. The bulletins covered, in total, ten flaws in Microsoft Windows, Office and Internet Explorer.

A number of the flaws could be exploited simply by visiting a hostile website. This could lead to a user's PC being totally compromised by the attacker. This reinforces the message I have been telling you for months: these days it is essential that you surf the internet with your browser sandboxed or running with reduced privileges. Full details on how to do this 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 [3] now.

[3] (Requires IE5 or later)

3.2 Vista SP1 Finally Released, XP SP3 to Follow

Vista SP1 was publicly released on March 18 and distribution via the Windows and Microsoft Update Services will start in mid-April. According to Microsoft, SP1 was "focused on addressing specific reliability, performance, and compatibility issues, supporting new types of hardware, and adding support for several emerging standards."

In plain English this means that the majority of users won't derive any general benefit from installing SP1 and, indeed, some may experience problems as the result of the install.

That said, Vista users should still install the pack and the safest way to do this is via the Microsoft Update as opposed to the Windows Update Service. That's because Vista requires certain hardware drivers to be updated prior to installation, and the Microsoft Update Service will handle this automatically. Full details of the changes in Vista SP1 can be found here [1]. If you don't get SP1 delivered by the end of April you can check here [2] for possible reasons. Ho hum.

Windows XP SP3 has been released to manufacturing, and the public release may be expected soon (some say in the second half of April). There have been reports from release candidate users that it improves system performance by up to 10%, but when I look at these reports it seems like a case of Chinese Whispers to me. I hope I'm wrong. Whatever, SP3 will be welcome if only because it will ease the current huge task of installing three years worth of post SP2 Windows updates each time a XP SP2 system is installed.

[1] (

3.3 Critical Update to Adobe Flash Player
Almost everyone has the free Adobe Flash player installed, so you had better read this item carefully. Adobe has advised [1] of seven flaws in its Flash player that could allow someone to take control of your PC simply by visiting a hostile or compromised website. Even Vista systems are affected. The flaws exist in versions of the Flash Player and earlier. The safest option is to go directly to the Adobe site [2] and download and install the latest version

3.4 Is your ISP Selling Your Browsing History?
Last month [1] I reported that three of the UK's top ISPs (Virgin Media, BT and TalkTalk) had decided to sell their customers' private browsing history to an advertising broker and the same broker is currently in discussion with US ISPs. Now a comprehensive analysis of the broker's system, by Dr Richard Clayton from the University of Cambridge, has been published and it is not comforting reading. To quote Clayton "... they  assume that their business processes give them the right to impersonate trusted websites and add tracking cookies under an assumed name; and they assume that if only people understood all the technical details they'd be happy..." More here [2]. Thanks to Lex Davidson for the links.

3.5 Fixing Defective Software May be "Theft"
Oh, this is a sad story. Someone fixed a broken Creative Audio driver and was then accused by Creative of "Stealing Our Goods." Worse still, it looks like the drivers in question were deliberately not updated by Creative to encourage consumers to buy newer products. Thanks to JW for the links.


4.1 Get the 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities on CD

Folks have been asking me for this for years but I've never had the time to compile it. However, Benjamin Burrows from offered to do it and it's now available from his site [1].

Ben has done a great job. The CD contains the installation files for just about every single product mentioned in the "46 Best-ever Freeware" list. The only programs missing are those for which re-distribution is not permitted, and there are very few of those.

We are talking about 600+MB of outstanding programs and utilities all easily accessible through a custom menu system Ben has created. The CD also contains the full reviews from my website to help you select the right products for your needs. If this was commercial software it would be worth thousands of dollars. Ben is selling it for $7.95 including shipping.

With a compilation like this you really never need to buy commercial software again. Take a copy over to your friends and demonstrate to them with what they can get for free. And for folks with slow internet connections this is the answer to your prayers.

If this sounds like a shameless plug, it's because it is :>)

I want you to buy this CD. I have two reasons why: first, it helps Ben continue his development of the wonderful UBCD4Win boot disk project and, secondly, I get $1.00 royalty for every CD sold. Of that $1.00, every single cent will go to charities helping children in need.

I think you'll be surprised at just how useful this CD is. Just the thing to have in your PC toolkit, and a great gift as well.


4.2 Support Alert Subscribers Sniff Out Best USB Deals
Last month I light-heartedly offered a free premium subscription to the first subscriber who could locate a 2GB Kingston Traveler drive under $10, including shipping. Little did I expect that so many of you would be successful. The best find was made by subscriber Dario Valenzano, who located the drive for $5.99 including shipping [1]. Yet again, dear readers, you managed to impress me.

4.3 Good Tech Blog
Subscriber Tim Wiza recently put me on to the Shankrilla blog site [1] and I've been checking it out over the last week. Like manyt tech blogs there is a lot of fill, but what impressed me was the amount of original content, a rare thing in the blogosphere these days. Some useful stuff too, such as this primer [2] on changing the look of Gmail using Firefox extensions. Well worth a periodic visit or RSS subscription.

4.4 Free HDR Alignment Tool

Regular contributor Paul Lawrence writes "In February's issue of the newsletter we saw some excellent freeware choices reviewed by Tony Bennett for creating HDR images from a series of bracketed digital images. [1] If you go right out (like I did) and tried to take some snapshots to create your own HDR's, you will soon discover that a tripod is an important part of HDR photography, because image alignment is pretty important. The problem is that it is not always convenient or possible to have a tripod handy. The solution is to take those pics as steadily as possible, and then use an image alignment tool. The excellent freeware "HDRAT" (HDR Alignment Tool) is just such a tool [2]. You can take several very crooked shots, add some control points to each image, and then output the aligned images in any of several popular ready for loading into your favorite HDR creation tool. HDRAT will also help correct some FOV and perspective distortion problems. This tool is a must have for those times when you're caught without a tripod! Be aware that the site that is currently hosting this freeware has limited hourly bandwidth, so if you have problems try back later"

Tony Bennett rejoins: "A technique you can use when you don't have a tripod handy is to press the shutter down, hold your breath and don't let go of the shutter until the three or so exposure-bracketed photos for your HDR shot have been taken. It's when you let go of the shutter that your shots get out of alignment. It also helps if your elbows are held against the chest making yourself into a tripod. Using this technique, the results can be surprisingly good. For example, check out this hand-held HDR shot [3] I took. Of course there are other alternatives to using a tripod such as this [4] :>)"


4.5 How to Make Booklets from PDF Files
This is pretty simple but could be quite useful. Booklet Creator is a free web service that allows you to upload a PDF file and have it converted to another PDF file that, when downloaded, can be printed as a book. That is, double sided with alternating pages. I tried it and it worked like a charm, except that the downloaded file didn't have a PDF extension. I just tacked on .pdf to the file name and it worked fine. There are some restrictions: the file can be only 10MB maximum and the document must be in portrait mode. I know some fancy printers can do this automatically, but not everyone owns one. Thanks to Jerry DeNigris for the suggestion.

4.6 Useless Waste of Time Department
This robot video is so stunning, so amazing, that I thought it was a hoax. I thought stuff like this was at least ten years away. Yet another mind-blowing contribution from subscriber Lex Davidson.

** Additional Items in this Premium SE Edition **

4.7 Learn to Touch Type for Free
Why pay for a commercial typing tutor program when you can use a free online site like this?

4.8 How to Generate .htaccess Files the Easy Way
On web servers, .htaccess files are used to control many different functions, including authentication, access restriction and redirection. Setting them up can be a nightmare for part-time webmasters, but this site will generate your .htaccess file for you. All you need do is fill in an online form

4.9 How to Get Exactly What you Want
Ever wanted a special piece of furniture made, or needed a custom-built item? Now you can have whatever you want made directly by a computer from your drawings. Thanks to JW for the link.


5.1 How to Convert PDF Files to Word Doc Files for Free

Sooner or later you will need to convert an Adobe PDF file to a Microsoft Word DOC file. They are, after all, two of the most common document file formats around.

The reverse conversion from a DOC to PDF is, of course, a piece of cake; there are any number of free PDF writers [1] that allow you to output a PDF file directly from Word itself.

Converting from PDF to DOC is trickier, particularly if you want to preserve the document layout and/or your PDF file contains images.

If layout and images are not important, then all you need to do is copy and paste the text from your PDF Reader into Word. The text will copy fine but all layout and any images will be lost, though some font style elements will be retained. And if the original PDF is in multi-column format you will get a real mess.

Your best free option for preserving format is to use an online conversion service. With these services, you upload your PDF file, then download the converted file.

I tried a number of these services, including one offered by Adobe, but in the end I could only recommend two. Each, however, was excellent.

My first choice is ZamZar [2]. This is an excellent general file conversion site, and PDF to DOC is one of the many conversion options available.

Usage couldn't be simpler: just surf to the site, select your conversion output type, point to the file you want uploaded for conversion and type in your email address. Some time later you will get an email with a download link for the converted file.

For my 107KB test PDF file, the download email link came back to me within one minute, which was pretty impressive, though I have heard that sometimes you may have to wait for quite a while.
My test file [3] is in multi-column format with breakout boxes in various font styles and has embedded images. Converting this is quite a challenge.

ZamZar did well, though [4]. The two column layout was preserved, the images were reproduced in their correct locations and the varying fonts rendered well, given that Word had no exact matching fonts. Importantly, all the text could be edited from within Word

On the downside the image quality was reduced and the article's large opening drop capital was displaced. Not bad though.

My second recommendation, KoolWire [5], works very similar to ZamZar. There are, however, some differences: First, the converted KoolWire file comes back as RTF, not DOC format. That's not a problem though, as Word can easily read RTF files. Second, the KoolWire site suggests that if the file being converted is less than 10MB then you should email the file rather than directly upload it. This is rather less convenient, so I told a white lie and selected the "more than 10MB" option, in which case I was able to directly upload the file just like with ZamZar.

There was another minor annoyance. The KoolWire site is in Italian and, although an English option is offered, it is less than complete. Still, it's not hard to work out what you have to do.

Conversion quality was good, but on my sample file the converted RTF file [6] was not quite as good as ZamZar. Two of the document's pages mysteriously ended up as tables, and the image quality was poorer. On the other hand KoolWire got the big drop capital correct, though at the expense of messing the left justification of the paragraph that contained it. At 869KB, the converted file was similar in size to the 829KB ZamZar file.

Overall, both these free conversion services are good though not perfect. Which one gives the best conversion will probably depend on the document being converted, so why not try both?

I haven't tried any of the many commercial PDF to DOC programs. If you own one then why not download my test file [3] and email the converted DOC file to me at along with details of the program used. I'll publish the results in a future issue.



6.1 Best Free Audio Editing Software

(This item was prepared by Joe Bennett, one of the volunteer category editors for my new wiki-style website)

With podcasting more popular than ever, more and more people are now looking for easy ways to record, edit, mix, and save sound on their PCs.

In fact, people don't want to simply record only their voices for their podcasts. They are now making entire downloadable shows that are edited and mixed to such quality, that they sound almost as good as the professionals.

Software that can do all this editing has been, historically, very expensive (like the $349 Adobe Audition) but two excellent free products are now available that will give you that professional touch you desire for your recordings.

Audacity [1] does all the recording and editing I need, and is much simpler and faster to use than a lot of pay products. It allows you to select and apply a noise profile and, just as easily, remove it. According to the web site, Audacity will also, "record live audio, convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs, edit Ogg Vorbis, MP3, and WAV sound files, cut, copy, splice, and mix sounds together and change the speed or pitch of a recording." Audacity supports plugins for LADSPA, Nyquist and VST. There is also support for real-time monitoring, though it is not enabled by default.

Note: Audacity supports VST plugins but this support is not "built-in". Because the code is not 100% open source, it must be kept separate for licensing reasons. The "VST Enabler" is available for download from the Audacity website (See link in the "Product Specifications" section below), and is available for Windows, Mac OS-X and for Linux. Support is limited for the time being, but full support is coming.

Kristal Audio Engine [2] is a powerful multi-track recorder, audio sequencer and mixer - ideal for anyone wanting to get started with recording, mixing and mastering digital audio. According to their website, "It is designed as a modular system. The main application provides a mixing console, while the audio sequencer, live audio input and so on are loaded as separate Plug-Ins."

It supports an ASIO audio driver, which may be appealing to those who are concerned with latency while implementing multi-track recording. It's based on a 32-bit floating point audio engine that can handle sample rates of 44 to 192 kHz with word sizes of 16, 24 or 32 bit. It comes with a three-band parametric EQ and supports WAVE, AIFF, FLAC, and OGG Vorbis file formats. It can only handle a maximum of 16 audio tracks, though the web site mentions an upcoming version 2 that will handle more tracks, as well as support for MIDI, virtual instruments, and a wider range of VST plugins.

Like all media editing programs, Kristal requires a modern fast PC. Don't even think about using it with a sub 1Ghz machine.

Wavosaur [3] weighs in at a total uncompressed file size of 491K, and is the only product in this review that requires no installation, making it extremely portable. What surprised me about it was that, for such a small program, Wavosaur packs a lot of advanced features, including resample, bit-depth convert (8,16,24,32 bits), pitch shift, vocal removal, DC offset removing, auto-trim, silence remover, interpolate, auto detect region, cross-fade loop, and export of multiple .wav files from regions. It also supports ASIO drivers and VST plug-ins, has many analysis tools and is also skinable.

Thanks to subscribers, Jay Eitelman, Rinchen Tsepal, and Brandon Tanner for contributing to this review.


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6.2 A Free Program That Identifies Problems with Your PC

Subscriber Keith Richmond writes:

"Gizmo, I have been using, for about 4 months now, a program called Spotlight on Windows to view the data flow and troubleshoot related problems on any computer on my network. The look and feel is very cool, so cool, in fact, that I at first suspected it was all show and little substance. I could not have been more wrong.

The main interface is a dynamic visual that lets me know where any bottlenecks might be that are slowing down my computer. Anything that is functioning satisfactorily appears in green, but when a slow-down occurs, the visual which represents the affected area turns yellow, orange or red, depending on the severity of the problem detected.You can then click on the visual and get a drill down related to the problem, any metrics involved, and related drill downs.

It has great graphs and charts that are populated by the data it obtains from the continuous scan of the computer involved.

Best part is this: I can run it to get feedback for my local machine, or connect through Spotlight to any computer on my network to easily diagnose problems from afar. If someone calls me at the helpdesk and tells me their computer is running very slowly, I can, with a few clicks, connect the relevant PC through the network using Spotlight by using their IP address and network admin user name and password. I can then see right away exactly where the bottleneck is occurring. It runs completely form the host computer. No need to install anything on the remote machine.

So far, the only issue I have with it is that it seems to be very processor intensive on the host machine, so older machines will suffer a hit. I am running it without an issue on a Pentium D 2.8 GHz with 1.5 GB RAM, and it is fine and dandy."

This a great find, Keith. I tried it on a single workstation and it worked like a charm, flagging problems in the write rate of one of the hard drives and excessive page file usage. It didn't, however, pick up a motherboard fault that I know exists on the test PC, but neither has any other diagnostic program, other than a specialist card-based hardware diagnostic suite I tried last year.

Yes, there was a minor performance hit when running Spotlight, but it was quite acceptable. Besides, this is not a utility that you would want to leave permanently running. Rather, it should be used only when diagnosis is required.

OK, it's not perfect, but it's still a must-have program for your PC toolkit. It's great for individual PCs but it's network admins who should really be smiling.

Spotlight on Windows: Freeware with one year renewable license, all Windows versions, 22.4MB


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See you next issue. Next month's issue will be published on the Thursday the 15th of May.

Ian Richards