Monthly Archives: March 2008

Kick Windows Media Player to the Curb! – Free GOM Media Player

Tired of Windows Media Player’s weaknesses? Fed up with its 24.5 MB bloated size? Are you unhappy with its outrageous overhead requirements? Then GOM Media Player, (the unusual name stands for Gretech Online Movie Player), may well be the tool you’ve been looking for.

GOM Media Player’s support for a diverse range of file formats, it’s built in Codecs, and its advanced playback capabilities, has made it one of the most downloaded of all Windows Media Player replacements. To date, over 5,380,000 downloads on CNET alone.

GOM Media Player is a relatively small (5.57MB) application that can play most encoded video formats including AVI, DAT, FLV, MPEG, DivX, XviD, and more, with its own built-in Codec system.

If you’re the impatient type, GOM Media Player can even play video files that are still in the process of being downloaded. As well, files that have been broken during the downloading process can still be played.

For audio/video files that GOM Media Player can not play due to a missing Codec, (I haven’t found one yet), GOM Media Player will attempt to find one using GUID; if you are interested in seeing how GUID works then go to GUID.org. http://www.guid.org/ Once it finds a match, you will be redirected to a download site from which you can download and install the required Codec/s.

A built-in Screen Capture utility allows you to take screenshots of your video directly from GOM Media Player. Using the Burst Capture feature, you can take up to 999 shots continuous screenshots. I love this feature!

This is my personal choice of media player, and I have yet to be disappointed with its performance. I highly recommend this really excellent application.

Quick facts:

  • DVD-quality videos with 5.1 channel audio output.
  • Supports most Codecs (AVI, DAT, MPEG, DivX, FLI using an embedded Codec system
  • Plays incomplete or damaged AVI file by skipping the damaged frames
  • Plays Locked Media Files while downloading or sharing
  • Supports HTTP Streaming ASF/OGG/MP3/AAC/MPEG PS/MPEG TS
  • Subtitle, Overlay Mixer features, Keys Remapping, Super speed/High Mode
  • Play Audio CD
  • Play Video CD/SVCD/XCD
  • Enhanced Filter Rendering
  • Drag-and-drop support
  • Editable skins
  • Real-time index rebuilding for AVI files
  • Unicode support

Advanced Features:

  • Customizable settings on the control panel
  • Adjust image brightness, hue, and saturation
  • Sharpen and add noise to your video
  • Audio equalizer
  • Fast forward/rewind using left/right keys
  • Repeat a section of your video using A-B Repeat feature

System Requirements: Windows Me/2000/XP/2003 Server/Vista

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Audio Applications, Freeware, High Definition Video Players, Media Player Replacement, Multimedia Tools, Software, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Backup Image Hard Drives/Partitions with Free DriveImage XML

We all know how important it is to have a recent backup of critical data, system/hardware drivers (something many of us forget), and user operating system settings, in case of system or hardware failure.

Well with DriveImage XML, a free, easy to use, and reliable program, you can go one step further and image both hard drive partitions and logical drives.

The real benefit of course in imaging your full drives and partitions is you now have the ability to restore your complete operating system, as well as your installed applications, user settings, and the registry.

I was very impressed when just this past week, one of my colleagues copied a dying hard drive to a new drive in less than an hour, directly from Windows XP using this versatile free application.

DriveImage XML uses Microsoft’s Volume Shadow Services (VSS) to create images, allowing you to create safe “hot images” even from drives currently in use. Images are then stored in XML files, which allows you to process those files with third party tools.

If, or when it becomes necessary, you can now restore the image to the same or a replacement drive. You also have the option of copying the drive image directly to a new drive, just as my colleague did. An added feature of DriveImage XML is the included image explorer that permits access to previously created backup images and the extraction of individual files

Since this program is currently distributed as freeware, there is no technical support offered. Instead, refer to the program’s help file and documentation. If you need additional help you can refer to the program’s frequently asked questions (FAQ).

Quick facts:

  • Backup logical drives and partitions to image files
  • Browse these images, view and extract files
  • Restore these images to the same, or a different drive
  • Copy directly from drive to drive
  • Schedule automatic backups with Task Scheduler
  • Restore images to drives without rebooting

System Requirements: Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista

DriveImage XML will backup, image and restore drives formatted with FAT 12, 16, 32 and NTFS

Watch the DriveImage XML video tutorial at YouTube

Download the application at Download.com

If you think backing up has limited value checkout “You’ll Thank Me One Day” by TechPaul.

For another view on How to Install Backup on XP Home, checkout Tech for Everyone a great Blog chock full of great advice.

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Filed under Backup Applications, Freeware, Software, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Auslogics Disk Defrag – The Best Free Defragger

To paraphrase Shakespeare “To defrag or not to defrag; that is the question”. You wouldn’t think that defragging a hard drive would be an issue which is open to much discussion; but it is.

Fragmentation is caused by creating and deleting files and folders, installing new software, and downloading files from the Internet. When you delete files or folders, the first available empty spaces on the hard drive are filled in randomly when you create new files and folders, as you do when you save pics from your camera, install software, save emails, or create documents.

A fairly common point of view holds that defragging a hard drive is pointless and provides no measurable increase in system performance.

One example of this type of thinking taken from a forum I visit frequently is as follows: “Disk cleanup is pretty useless, and defragging should only really be done if you recently moved around very large files on your hard disk”. This point of view has some support in the tech community.

On the other hand there is also considerable support for the following point of view: “Disk fragmentation leads to system slowdowns, PC crashes, slow startups and shutdowns”.

So which point of view then is more likely to be accurate given that hard disk fragmentation makes the disk drive heads move more than necessary when reading files which leads to reduced performance in file input and output?

Despite the fact that it is difficult, if not impossible, to measure an increase in system performance following hard drive defragmentation, there is a slight leaning in the tech community toward defragmentation being a positive maintenance process. I support this point of view.

Personally, I defrag with Auslogics Disk Defrag a free disk defragger from Auslogics Software on a weekly basis. The program is extremely easy to use, does not require any analysis phase and is faster than most disk defragmentation software I’ve tested in the past, and it’s free. In my view, it’s one more maintenance process in helping me get the maximum performance out of my hardware.

Before you begin a defrag process it’s important to run a program such as CCleaner which will empty your Recycle Bin, Temporary Internet Files folder, and other locations where clutter tends to accumulate on your PC. As well, you might consider uninstalling any applications you no longer use.

Quick facts:

  • Improve computer performance and stability
  • Increase your productivity – no more waiting for files to open
  • Defragment disks in minutes
  • Disk fragmentation map and detailed fragmentation report

 

 

Two million downloads of this application from CNET, and an average user rating of 4.5 Stars speaks to the value of this small application.

System requirements: Vista/XP/2000/2003, 32-bit and 64-bit and dual-core CPU supported.

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Disk Cleaners, Freeware, Hard Drive Maintenance, Slow Computer, Software, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Adobe Photoshop Express Online Beta Launched

adobe-photoshop-express.jpgPhotoshop Express Beta is a new, just launched, free online service from Adobe which combines 2GB of photo storage space with Adobe quality image editing. Since this an online service there is no need for you to download any software to your computer.

According to Doug Mack, vice president of Consumer and Hosted Solutions at Adobe “Photoshop Express is a convenient, single destination where you can store, edit and share photos whether you’re at home, school or on the road.”

I have used Adobe Photoshop in one flavor or another for 10-12 years, with one degree of success or another, and it has long been the tool of choice for professionals and high-end users, but with Photoshop Express Adobe has brought its digital image-editing expertise to the masses.

Although it carries the Adobe tag, Photoshop Express is distinctly unlike Adobe’s other editing software, thank goodness, in that it is simple for beginners to operate.

In keeping with its one-click approach, a range of standard edits can easily be performed such as cropping, resizing, muting background and removing blemishes and red-eye. One of the most attractive features of Photoshop Express is its easy to understand interface, but the real bonus is that 2GB of free storage.

“This is a consumer-oriented product,” said Geoff Baum, director of Express Products at Adobe. “It’s designed to be very easy to use, very self discoverable, so if I’m a new user and I’ve never had experience doing image editing it should be very quick to figure out how to use the tool.”

To begin using the service, you will first need to sign up and create an account.

Go to: Photoshop Express

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Filed under Freeware, Graphic Software, Image Editors, Integrated Photo Applications, Multimedia Tools, Online Photo Editing, Online Photo Storage, Productivity Software, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

Slow Computer? – Free Software Solutions!

There may be multiple reasons why your computer behaves badly and is no longer the speed demon it once was. The most common problems that have impact on a computer’s speed and behavior are listed here, with the appropriate free software solution.

In most cases, since a slow computer is generally suffering from more than one problem, you will probably find that you will have to resolve the issue using more than a single solution.

A Cluttered Registry

The longer you use Windows, the more cluttered your registry can become, especially if you regularly install and uninstall software. Many applications, on being uninstalled, leave behind “orphan” registry entries. They don’t remove all traces of themselves; causing problems such as sluggish performance, system lockups, or a bloated registry that takes longer to load on startup. The easiest way to clean your registry is to use a free registry cleaner, such as Regseeker. With the click of a button, Regseeker will scan your registry for these fragmented files, and safely remove them.

Download: Regseeker

Full Hard Drive

A full hard drive will not function efficiently. You require at least 2 – 3MB of free space for programs to run smoothly. If you lack this much free space, you should uninstall unused programs on your primary drive. A superior program to uninstall programs from your computer is Revo Uninstaller. This free program with its advanced and fast algorithm scans before, and after you uninstall an application.

After the program’s regular uninstaller runs, you can remove additional unnecessary files, folders and registry keys that are usually left over (those “orphaned” registry entries we talked about earlier), on your computer. This feature is a definite plus.

Download: Revouninstaller

Not Enough Memory

It’s important to have enough memory on your computer to keep programs running smoothly. Current recommendations are that you have at least 512MB on your PC, although at this point, 1GB seems to be a safer bet (2 GB if you are running Vista). If you need to upgrade your RAM, check your local retail ads for sales. You can usually get a RAM upgrade at a great price.

Alternatively, you can run a free memory manager such as FreeRam XP Pro to free and optimize your computer’s RAM (Random Access Memory). The result is an increase in system performance and productivity. The application automatically configures itself for ease of use and also features advanced options and customizability. FreeRAM XP Pro has been designed to be easy to use yet highly customizable by computer novices and experts alike. I have been using this application for several years, and I am delighted with its performance.

Download: FreeRAM XP Pro

Too Many Start-Up Programs

When you boot your computer, there may be a number of programs that start automatically. These programs impact your computer’s available processing capacity and memory usage, and can slow it down dramatically. In all probability, you don’t need all of these programs to automatically start when you boot your computer.

AutoRuns is a free utility, which has the most comprehensive knowledge of auto-starting locations of any startup monitor and shows you what programs are configured to run during system boot up or login, and shows you the entries in the order Windows processes them.

These programs include ones in your startup folder, Run, RunOnce, and other Registry keys. You can configure AutoRuns to show other locations, including Explorer shell extensions, toolbars, browser helper objects, Win logon notifications, auto-start services, and much more. AutoRuns goes considerably beyond the MSConfig utility bundled with Windows Me and XP.

Download: AutoRuns

Spyware and Malicious Programs

The most common complaint about spyware is it slows down the operating system. As spyware accumulates on a computer, performance can grind to a dismal halt. Combating spyware starts with learning to recognize its presence and understanding its impact on system resources.

Recognizing when spyware is installed on a computer system and removing it promptly is the best method of protecting computers from catastrophic problems caused by spyware. There are many free applications available to help you recognize, control and remove spyware, adware, Trojans, and other malicious malware/programs that can infect and slowdown your system.

Here are some free applications that are reliable and I feel confident in recommending.

SpyBot Search and Destroy

AdAware

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition

ThreatFire 3

Comodo Firewall Pro

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Filed under Free Security Programs, Freeware, Memory Optimizers, Registry Cleaners, Slow Computer, Software, System Memory Management, System Process Scanners, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Fake/Redirected Search Engine Results = Malware


For the past several months I’ve been watching closely, as more and more Blog discussions have been taking place around the topic of search engines results and malware.

Recent news on this issue from Panda Security’s Oxygen 3 E-bulletin on IT security, indicates that Cyber-crooks are unrelenting in their chase to infect web search results. According to Panda “there is a steady increase in the use of custom-built websites designed to drop malicious code on computers, or even the manipulation of legitimate pages in order to infect users with malware.”

PandaLabs maintains that cyber-crooks have begun to opt for a new technique: the manipulation of search engine results, or seeding websites among the top results returned by these engines. When a potential victim visits one of these sites the likelihood of the downloading of malicious code onto the computer by exploiting existing vulnerabilities is high.

There are several ways that this can occur. Cyber-crooks can exploit vulnerabilities on the server hosting the web page to insert an iFrame, (an HTML element which makes it possible to embed another HTML document inside the main document). The iFrame can then activate the download of malicious code by exploiting additional vulnerabilities on the visiting machine.

Alternatively, a new web page can be built, with iFrames inserted, that can lead to malware downloads. This new web page appears to be legitimate.

Another method is the insertion of false dialogue boxes, fake toolbars, and more on sites; all designed to load destructive malware which could include rootkits, password stealers, Trojan horses, and spam bots.

For more information on this, and other threats checkout Spyware Sucks, a great Blog that will keep you up to date on the latest risks to your online safety.

So what can you do to ensure you are protected, or to reduce the chances you will become a victim?

As I have pointed out in the past on this Blog, the following are actions you can take to protect your computer system:

• Don’t open unknown email attachments

• Don’t run programs of unknown origin

• Disable hidden filename extensions

• Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched

• Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use

• Disable Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX if possible

• Disable scripting features in email programs

• Make regular backups of critical data

• Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised

• Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer.

• Install a personal firewall on the computer.

• Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet.

• Ensure the anti-virus software scans all e-mail attachments.

Be proactive when it comes to your computer’s security; make sure you have adequate software based protection to reduce the chances that your machine will become infected.

The free software listed below, in my view, provides better than average malware protection.

avast! 4 Home Edition

www.avast.com

This anti virus app is a real fighter, scanning files on demand and on access, including email attachments. Let’s you know when it detects mal-ware through its shield function. An important feature is a boot-time scan option which removes mal-ware that can’t be removed any other way.

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition

www.free.grisoft.com

Similarly, this program scans files on access, on demand, and on schedule. Scans email; incoming and outgoing. For those on Vista, your in luck, it’s Vista-ready. I have been using this application since its release and it now forms part of my front line defenses. I recommend this one highly.

Ad-Aware 2007

www.lavasoftusa.com

In my view, Ad-Aware 2007 Free is the best free spyware and adware remover available. It does a relatively good job of protecting against known data-mining, Trojans, dialers, malware, browser hijackers and tracking components. The only downside with the free version; real-time protection is not included.

ThreatFire 3

www.threatfire.com

ThreatFire 3 blocks mal-ware, including zero-day threats, by analyzing program behavior and it does a stellar job. Again, this is one of the security applications that forms part of my front line defenses. I have found it to have high success rate at blocking mal-ware based on analysis of behavior. Highly recommend this one!

Comodo Firewall Pro

www.comodogroup.com

The definitive free firewall, Comodo Firewall protects your system by defeating hackers and restricting unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet. I have been using this application for 6 months and I continue to feel very secure. It resists being forcibly terminated and it works as well, or better, than any firewall I’ve paid for. This is one I highly recommend. Amazing that it’s free!

WinPatrol

www.winpatrol.com

Do you want to get a better understanding of what programs are being added to your computer? Then WinPatrol is the program for you. With WinPatrol, in your system tray, you can monitor system areas that are often changed by malicious programs. You can monitor your startup programs and services, cookies and current tasks. Should you need to, WinPatrol allows you to terminate processes and enable, or disable, startup programs. There are additional features that make WinPatrol a very powerful addition to your security applications.

Sandboxie

www.sandboxie.com

Surfing the Internet without using Sandboxie is, to me, like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Deadly! This application creates a “Sandboxed” protected environment on your machine within which you browse the net. Data that is written to your hard drive is simply eliminated, (or not, your choice), when the sandbox is closed. Utilizing this application allows you to surf the web without the risk of infecting your system with mal-ware or other nasties. This is another security application I have been using for over 6 months and it has yet to let me down. Highly recommended.

Snoop Free Privacy Shield

www.snoopfree.com

Snoop Free Privacy Shield is a powerful application that guards your keyboard, screen and open windows from all spy software. I have been using this application for quite some time, and I have been amazed at the number of programs that have requested access to my keyboard and screen. Particularly, programs that I am in the process of installing. If you’re serious about privacy, this is a must have addition to your security toolbox.

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Filed under Anti-Keyloggers, Anti-Malware Tools, Application Vulnerabilities, Free Security Programs, Freeware, Internet Safety, internet scams, Online Safety, rootkits, Safe Surfing, Search Engines, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, System Security, System Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Free Spyware Doctor – Excellent Secondary On-Demand Malware Scanner

spyware-doctor.jpgAs I wrote recently, Spyware Terminator is my current application of choice for active real-time protection in the spyware wars that we, as computer users, are involved in any time we log onto the Internet.

Having tested virtually all of the major anti-spyware apps over the last year or more, I’ve settled, for now, on Spyware Terminator primarily due to this strong real-time protection against spyware, adware, Trojans, key-loggers, home page hijackers and other malware threats.

 

As we all know however, there is no one anti-malware tool that is likely to identify and remove all of the millions of rogue malware that infest the cyber world. So to ensure maximum safety, if that’s even possible, it’s important to have layered defenses in the ongoing fight against malware.

 

An excellent choice, as a secondary line of defense, is Spyware Doctor Starter Edition from PC Tools. http://www.pctools.com/spyware-doctor/ This free version of the award winning program, with its easy to use interface, is used by millions of people worldwide to protect their computers; it’s reported there are a million+ additional downloads every week.

I have been able to establish through various forums and user groups, that the free version and the paid version have identical detection rates. However, the most important real-time protection functions are disabled in the free version.

 

File protection is the only real time protection that operates in the free version and unfortunately, this level of real-time protection is inadequate in the current Internet environment.

 

I would not recommend then, that you use this free version of Spyware Doctor as a stand alone security application because it simply will not offer you adequate protection. Instead, use it only as an on-demand scanner.

 

Despite this real-time protection shortcoming in the free version, Spyware Doctor has an excellent reputation as a first class security application, and I highly recommend that you add this free version to your security toolbox to be used as a secondary line of defense.

 

Quick Facts:

 

  • Spyware protection
  • Adware protection
  • Scan and Remove
  • Smart Updates
  • Limited OnGuard Protection Note: Be particularly aware of this limitation.

 

You can download the free Spyware Doctor Starter Edition via Google Pack, or better yet download this application at Download.com and save yourself some hassle.

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Filed under Anti-Keyloggers, Anti-Malware Tools, Freeware, Internet Safety Tools, Online Safety, rootkits