Monthly Archives: February 2008

Home Page Hijacked? Get It Back Free – HijackThis – Version 2.0.2

Your home page has been hijacked and despite the fact you’ve run every anti-malware program in your arsenal, you can’t get it back. Well there’s hope yet!

HijackThis is a free utility by Trend Micro which heuristically scans your computer to find settings that may have been changed by homepage hijackers, spyware, and other malware or unwanted programs.

This application has a well deserved reputation for being aggressive in tracking down unauthorized changes that have been made to your system/applications.

The program doesn’t target specific programs, but instead it analyses registry and file settings and targets the methods used by hijackers to redirect your browser. After the scan HijackThis creates a report, or log file, with the results of the scan.

Because of the heuristic methods used by HijackThis, the results of the scan can be confusing to those who are not advanced users. However, the strength of this program lies in the large community of users who participate in online forums, where experts will interpret HijackThis scan results for you, and provide you with the information you need to clean any infection.

There is a great tutorial on using HijackThis at BleepingComputer

The latest version (2.0.2), adds powerful tools to the Configuration window including, a process manager and hosts file editor to help you excise virulent infections, and the ADS Spy tool which scans alternate data streams, that browser hijackers can use to evade spyware removers.

Despite the fact that you may only need this small application infrequently, it deserves a place in your anti-malware toolbox.

System requirements: Windows Vista, XP, 2000, Me, 98

Software requirements: Internet Explorer 6.0 or 7.0, Firefox 1.5 or 2.0

Download at: Trend Micro

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Freeware, Home Page Hijacking, Malware Advisories, Privacy, Software, System File Protection, System Security, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

The Paradox Created by Firewalls/Security Applications – Drive-by Downloads

Your Firewall and Security Applications provide the ultimate in protection while you’re surfing the web, right? Well in a sense they do.

Paradoxically, it’s because current anti-malware solutions are much more effective than they have ever been in detecting worms and viruses, that we’re now faced with another insidious form of attack.

Drive-by downloads are not new; they’ve been lurking around for years it seems, but they’ve become much more common and more crafty recently.

More than three million unique URLs on over 180,000 websites are automatically installing malware via drive-by downloads, according to recent statements by the Google Anti-Malware Team. Google has not been alone in noticing this trend by criminal hackers using these techniques. IBM noted recently, that criminals are directly attacking web browsers in order to steal identities, gain access to online accounts and conduct other illicit activities.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, drive-by download, they are essentially programs that automatically download and install on your computer without your knowledge. This action can occur while visiting an infected web site, as previously noted, opening an infected HTML email, or by clicking on a deceptive popup window. Often more than one program is downloaded, for example, file sharing with tracking spyware is very common. Again, it’s important to remember that this can take place without warning or your approval.

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:

  • When surfing the web: Stop. Think. Click
  • 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
  • Install McAfee Site Advisor, WOT, or a similar browser add-on

 

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.

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Filed under Email, Firefox Add-ons, Internet Explorer Add-ons, Internet Safety, Internet Safety Tools, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Safe Surfing, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Free Web Design Software For New Users – Make Your Own Website – Serif WebPlus 6

serif-box-webplus-6_.jpg Frequent readers of this Blog are aware, that over the past several weeks, I have been reviewing the free software offered by SerifSoftware. As I’ve mentioned before on this Blog, SerifSoftware has an unusual way to get you to try, buy, or upgrade, to their latest software offerings. They will give you, free of charge, an older version of any of their software packages. An interesting twist on the usual “try it for free for 30 days” we are all pretty familiar with.

I have used, and tested, Serif’s free editions for 10+ years now, and I have found that even their older software is more than up to the tasks I set.

Sure, the applications may be older than the current versions, but in terms of functionality and features, generally you are not missing much. Most software today, tends to be overblown and bloated with features that many users have little or no need of. So, in these older free versions there are not as many tools as one might find with more recent versions of Serif’s products, but those that are there tend to be the ones that are most used by typical users.

Despite the slightly dated appearance of Serif’s WebPlus 6, this is not an ‘old’ program that’s been revived just for give-away. WebPlus 6 is still a very functional and easy-to-use tool that will output a unique custom designed website to promote your club, hobby or business, or to put your favorite family/holiday photos online.

This application doesn’t profess to match Microsoft’s FrontPage or Adobe’s DreamWeaver in functionality; or for that matter, the price you would have to pay to purchase either of these top of the line web development tools. After all Serif WebPlus 6 is FREE!

So what can you expect from an application that’s an older version of a current application. Well surprisingly, for novice users, Serif WebPlus 6’s easy controls, simple step-by-step wizards and colorful templates are a quick and easy route to creating fun and attractive websites.

With its easy to use Desktop Publishing style interface, automated Web Site templates, visual web page creator, wizards, drag ‘n drop functionality, WYSIWYG editing, and comprehensive help, you can create your own home page on the web in minutes. Best of all, you can do this without having to have had previous experience.

Quick facts:

Website Templates

Choose from professionally-designed site schemes, provide some basic information, and then customize to suit your needs. The Layout Checker helps you fine-tune your design for most efficient web use. Then preview your site in your own web browser and publish it to the web.

Easy Editing and Special Effects

With WebPlus, it’s easy to import your own text and graphics to replace the samples in the web site templates. You’ll find integrated word processing tools, plus tools for creating text hyperlinks and hotspot graphics. The Snapping feature and Dot Grid help you achieve a crisp layout. Everything’s wrapped into a friendly desktop publishing environment with onscreen tool tips, hint line, and context-sensitive help!

Logo/Graphic Module

Produce attention-grabbing headlines, unique text effects, and powerful logos instantly using LogoPlus.

Animated Marquee Wizard

Custom-design your own varied and colorful multi-line text messages that scroll across the screen.

Spell-Checking and Thesaurus

Enhance your proofreading potential and ensure your site’s readability with these built-in support tools.

Direct Import of Digital Images

Now you can include images from your digital camera or photos and art work from your scanner, adding sophistication to your pages.

Color Schemes

By using the convenient pre-sets, or by customizing your own intelligent colors, add continuity or dramatically change the appearance of your Web publication with a single mouse click.

Studio Bar

Help your design break out of boring box formats. For a suave designer or fun and funky look take advantage of dozens of new graphic shapes.

Multiple Document Interface

Work on more than one web page at a time, even drag & drop items between them as you work.

Download at: FreeSerifSoftware

For reviews and free downloads of additional web design software on this Blog see:

PersonalWebKit

Kompozer

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Filed under Freeware, Multimedia Tools, Productivity Software, Software, Web Development, Windows Tips and Tools

Surfing on Public Computers? – Stay Anonymous – Two Free USB Applications

There are numerous reasons why someone would want to surf anonymously: to ensure protection from snooping web sites, annoying advertisers, employers, or curious family members.

More obvious reasons for anonymous surfing include, surfing in internet cafes, public terminals in libraries, or hotel business centers. In fact, you may want to surf anonymously on any PC where you don’t want to leave traces of your private surfing activities.

Most typical PC users are amazed at the amount of information their browser provides to web sites they visit. For example, the information below is available to every web site I visit. I have X’d out certain parameters for privacy purposes only.

  • Your computer is connecting to the internet at xxxxxxx, xxxx, in the xxxx, with an IP address of 24.xxx.xxx.142
  • Your User Agent is being reported as: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.8.1.12) Gecko/20080201 Firefox/2.0.0.12
  • Your Referrer is being reported as:
  • http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&client= ient=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en
  • Your IP Address is 24.xxx.xxx.142
  • Your Host Name is d235- xxx.xxx.home1.cable.net
  • A trace to your phone comes back with an area code of: 0

 

The objective of anonymous surfing then, is to conceal this information from web sites and other computers, and typically you would use an anonymous proxy server between you and the web site to accomplish this. When surfing anonymously, your web browser talks to the proxy server; the proxy server talks to the web site. Effectively this means, the web site does not know you; it knows only the anonymous proxy server.

You have a number of choices when it comes to anonymous surfing. You can use a free proxy server service; not my personal first choice – but that’s fodder for another article!

More reliable and safer, in my view, is to download and install a client application which manages the details of anonymous surfing for you.

One such application is OperaTor, a free utility that includes the Opera browser, the Privoxy Web proxy , and The Onion Router, which is a method used for anonymous Internet communication. All components launch simultaneously.

OperaTor, and the component pieces, does not require an installer and the utility can be installed and launched from a USB flash drive. This makes it ideal for surfing at public computers.

Download at: Download.com

A second free utility is XeroBank Browser, a special version of Firefox that runs in conjunction with the free Tor anonymizer service. and that can also run directly from a USB flash drive. Just plug in your USB stick to any PC with a USB port and Firefox V2 is automatically launched, set up for secure and private surfing.

TorPark creates a secure encrypted connection between the PC you are using and the first Tor server. This allows you to safely transmit information without fear of local interception. This makes it ideal for surfing on open Wi-Fi networks.

Download at: Download.com

One caveat you should take note of however is, since all transmissions are encrypted and transmitted across many nodes, anonymous surfing can be slower.

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Filed under Anonymous Surfing, Freeware, Internet Safety Tools, Online Safety, Privacy, Safe Surfing, Software, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Stop Accidental File Deletions – Get System Protect – Free

Recently I was talking to a friend whose teenagers had deleted all of the family photos to make room on the Hard Drive so that they could download a peer to peer movie. Luckily I had convinced him sometime before, that all important data on the computer needed to be backed up regularly. While he was still upset that the photo files had been erased, this incident wasn’t the disaster it could have been.So what about you? Do you have a disaster recovery plan in effect should this type of event, where you lose irreplaceable data, occur with your computer?

Backup

It’s now easier than ever to backup giving the large choice of relatively inexpensive media, including CDs, DVDs, USB sticks, external Hard Drives, and increasingly gaining popularity, Online Backup Services.

Mozy, which requires a broadband connection, is a free and easy to use online backup service that gives you 2GB of space allowing you to backup your data over the Internet. When needed, the backed up files can be restored over the Internet. You can read a review of this program and other online backup services on this Blog, or download the application at Mozy.

Alternatively, you can back up to your media using a freeware program such as DriveImage XML which runs under Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista. This program will backup, image and restore drives formatted with FAT 12, 16, 32 and NTFS. You can read a review of this program on this Blog, or download the application at Runtime.org.

Another Solution

Nothing of course, beats a regularly scheduled incremental back up plan, but there is another solution to prevent the accidental deletion of data from your computer.

System Protect is a free, easy-to-use application that helps keep your operating system stable, and protects important programs, documents and files from deletion caused by viruses, other users on your computer such as your kids, or even your own mistakes.

Quick Facts:

Files & Folders Protection

  • Prevents deletion of important files, programs and documents

Protection of Selected Files

  • Lets you choose files and folders to be protected. This ensures that a virus, other people working with your computer or even you won’t delete an important document, your favorite photos, music, movies or other files

Increased Operating System Stability

  • Protects essential system files to keep your operating system stable

Deletion Attempt Notification

  • Notifies you of any attempt to delete any of the protected files

Protection for All Users

  • Ensures protection for all computer users; administrator or restricted user

Works without Distracting You

  • Silently protects your computer without interrupting your work

Deny Mode

  • Automatically block deletion of any protected file

Since mistakes are inevitable on a computer, this neat little program could be just the thing you need to reduce the chances of having to deal with that unrecoverable error.

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Freeware, Online Banking, Software, System File Protection, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Check Your Ports for Spyware/Botware Free – With Netstat, CurrPorts, Port Analyzer

dosbox.jpgWindows XP has a command line utility which will help you determine if you have Spyware/Botware running on your system. Netstat displays protocol statistics and current TCP/IP connections. I use this utility as a test, to ensure that the anti-malware tools and Firewall running on my systems are functioning correctly, and that there are no open outgoing connections to the Internet that I am not aware of.

How to use Netstat:

You should close all open programs before you begin the following process, if you are unsure which ports/connections are normally open while you are connected to the Internet. On the other hand, if you are familiar with the ports/connections that are normally open, there is no need to close programs.

There are a number of methods that will take you to a command prompt, but the following works well.

Click Start>Run>type “cmd” – without the quotes>click OK> this will open a command box.

From the command prompt, type Netstat –a (be sure to leave a space), to display all connections and listening ports.

You can obtain additional information by using the following switches.

Type netstat -r to display the contents of the IP routing table and any persistent routes.

The -n switch tells Netstat not to convert addresses and port numbers to names, which speeds up execution.

The netstat -s option shows all protocol statistics.

The netstat-p option can be used to show statistics for a specific protocol or together with the -s option to show connections only for the protocol specified.

The -e switch displays interface statistics.

Running Netstat occasionally is a prudent move, since it allows you to double check which applications are connecting to the Internet.

If you find there are application connections to the Internet, or open ports, that you are unfamiliar with, a Google search should provide answers. A very good source of information is Steve Gibson’s website, Shields Up, where you can test all the ports on your machine as well as testing the efficiency of your Firewall. Take the Firewall test; you may be surprised at the results!

If you are unfamiliar with, or uncomfortable with using the command structure, there are a number of free real-time port analyzers available for download. My favorite of the two is CurrPorts since it provides more of the type of information I require.

process-and-port-analyzer.jpgProcess and Port Analyzer is a real time process, port and network connections analyzer which will allow you to find which processes are using which ports. A good little utility that does what it says it will do.

 

 

Quick Facts:

  • View currently running processes along with the full path and file which started it
  • View the active TCP Listeners and the processes using them
  • View the active TCP and UDP connections along with Process ID
  • Double click on a process to view the list of DLL’s

Download at: Download.com

currports.pngCurrPorts allows you to view a list of ports that are currently in use, and the application that is using it. You can close a selected connection and also terminate the process using it. As well, you can export all, or selected items to an HTML or text report. Additional information includes the local port name, local/remote IP address, highlighted status changes and more.

Quick Facts:

  • View current active ports and there starting applications
  • Close selected connections and processes
  • Save a text/ HTML report
  • Info on local port name, local/remote IP address, highlighted status changes

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Application Vulnerabilities, Freeware, Internet Safety, Internet Safety Tools, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Privacy, Software, System Security, System Utilities, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Microsoft delivers 11 patches, 6 critical; Excel flaw left unpatched

patch-tuesday-8may.jpg

Microsoft delivers 11 patches, 6 critical; Excel flaw left unpatched by ZDNet‘s Larry Dignan — Updated: Microsoft delivered 11 patches on Tuesday addressing 17 vulnerabilities. Six updates fix critical flaws and five address important vulnerabilities, but an already exploited Excel zero day was left unpatched. Microsoft’s advisory last week noted 12 patches fixing 7 critical vulnerabilities. One critical Windows vulnerability was cut due to quality issues. A Microsoft spokesman did confirm that […]

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Filed under Application Vulnerabilities, Productivity Software, Software, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Rogue Security Software On The Rise – What You Need to Know Now!

If the day should ever come when anti-malware applications achieve a 100% effective rate in the detection of malware, or software developers develop operating systems and applications that are fully malware resistant, I’ll have to find something else to Blog about! It doesn’t look like that day is likely to happen soon however. In the meantime many of us will continue to download and test/tryout the latest, greatest, and newest anti-malware tools.

Knowing this, Cyber crooks will continue to develop and distribute “rogue security software”. Unless you have had the bad experience of installing this type of malicious software, you may not be aware that such a class of software even exists. But it does.

Rogue security software is software that uses malware, or malicious tools, to advertise or install itself. Often, after installation on a system, an attempt is made to force users to pay for removal of nonexistent spyware. Rogue software will often install and use a Trojan horse to download a trial version, or it will perform other actions on a machine that are detrimental such as slowing down the computer drastically.

After installation of rogue security software, false positives; a fake or false malware detection warning in a computer scan, are the primary method used to convince the unlucky user to purchase the product. After all, a dialogue box that states “WARNING! Your computer is infected with spyware! – Buy [XYZ] to remove it!” is a powerful motivator. Clicking on the OK button takes the user to the product download site.

Another warning message typical of rogue anti-spyware software is as follows: “System has detected a number of active spyware applications that may impact the performance of your computer. Click the icon to get rid of unwanted spyware by downloading an up-to-date anti-spyware solution”.

Generally, reputable anti-spyware software is capable of detecting rogue software if it attempts to install, or on a malware scan. But this is not always the case. Anti-malware programs that rely on a definition database can be behind the curve in recognizing the newest threats.

A good partial solution to this problem is to ensure you have installed, and are running, an anti-malware application such as ThreatFire3, free from PC Tools. This type of program operates using heuristics, or behavioral analysis to identify newer threats.

As well, Malwarebytes, a reliable anti-malware company has created a free application to help keep you safe and secure. RogueRemover will safely remove WinAntiSpyware/WinAntiVirus, SpyAxe, VirusBlast, VirusBursters, as well as a number of other rogue applications.

Download from MajorGeeks.com

An absolute must is to make sure that the security application you are considering installing is recognized as legitimate by industry experts. An excellent web site that will keep you in the loop, and advise you what products work and have a deserved reputation for quality performance is Spyware Warrior.

Some current rogue software includes:

  • AntiVirGear
  • AntiVirusGold
  • Cleanator
  • DriveCleaner
  • EasySpywareCleaner
  • InfeStop
  • Malware Alarm
  • PCSecureSystem
  • PestTrap
  • SpyAxe
  • Spydawn
  • Spylocked
  • SpySheriff
  • SpySpotter
  • Spyware Quake
  • Spyware Stormer
  • Spy-Rid
  • System Live Protect
  • UltimateCleaner
  • VirusHeat
  • VirusProtectPro
  • WinAntivirus2006
  • WinFixer

Always remember of course, that you are your greatest line of defense against malware. STOP. THINK. CLICK

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Internet Safety, Internet Safety Tools, Malware Advisories, Online Safety, Rogue Software, Safe Surfing, Software, System Security, Windows Tips and Tools

Free – Advanced 3D Modeling and Animation Software – TrueSpace 3-D

Mountain View, California based Caligari is best known for its TrueSpace 3-D modeling software, which has been on the market for more than 20 years. The software lets animators, game designers, and other graphics professionals create three-dimensional renderings and special effects for a range of applications. The most recent version, TrueSpace 7.5, is available for $595.

Last week, (2/07/08) the chief executive of Caligari stated in a Blog post that the company has been acquired by Microsoft. Apparently Caligari’s imaging technology will be used to enhance Microsoft’s Virtual Earth project.

Just as Serif Software has made it a practice to release, free of charge, older editions of its applications, Caligari has made available a free version of one of its applications, trueSpace3 which also retailed at $595 on its release.

TrueSpace3 matched the “high end” 3D software of its time feature by feature and at the same time blazed the trail with the next generation true 3D interface which takes full advantage of 3D acceleration.

This is the full working version; nothing removed, and no time limits, although registration for an unlock code and a PDF manual is required. The code can be obtained at the following URL: caligari.com

Features include: Powerful point editing, smoothing, sweeping, and deformation tools; metaballs and plastiform tools to create organic shapes; multiple spot, local, and infinite lights; full physics simulation engine; bones, skinning, and inverse kinematics for character animation as well as a full physics simulation engine and inverse kinematics for jointed articulation .

A large number of file import and export formats add to the flexibility and compatibility with other programs. Output formats include rendered stills, animation, or VRML. A very active community provides support and interaction. Large selections of 3rd party plug-ins provide extra capabilities.

Feature set from the developer’s site:

Modeling

· Collision Detection
trueSpace3 uses accurate real time collision detection to position objects easily and precisely, even in perspective space. Use the Magnetic tool to combine objects just by colliding and sliding along surfaces. Or simply roll an object along any surface without losing contact. That’s total control.

· Live Skin
Organic modeling is taken to an all time high. Real time metaballs allow you to see the skin of an organic animal deform in real time as you move any metaball particle around. With Live Skin you get realistic natural objects faster than ever before.

· PlastiForm
Until now, particles have been for animation only. PlastiForm gives you a ‘hot’ engraving tool to generate new surface particles. This tool pushes surfaces and forces them to expand and deform, conforming to the tool’s shape. This is modeling taken to the next level.

Animation

Animation is more interactive then ever before with seamlessly integrated Key-Framing, Collision Detection, Dynamics, Inverse Kinematics, and Metaballs. Animation to the limits of your imagination. And beyond.

· Physics
Give objects properties of real materials like wood or rubber with weight, elasticity, torque and velocity. Apply gravity, wind and other forces. Then just click ‘Play’ to see objects fall with gravity, slow down from atmospheric density and collide with each other. You can animate a leaf dancing in the wind simply by dropping it.

· Inverse Kinematics
Manipulate a figure simply by shaking its hand. Or animate walking by key-framing the figure’s footsteps. Inverse Kinematics is integrated with Dynamics—including degrees of stiffness for each joint. Animate complex behavior with global actions, so you don’t have to manually manipulate each individual object. Create and edit joints with direct manipulation – without opening one dialog box!

Rendering

· 3D Paint
Paint textures or bumps directly on objects in 3D. You won’t have to spend hundreds on a separate 3D paint package, and you won’t have the hassle of switching between two separate programs – it’s all in the same workspace with trueSpace3!

· Direct 3D Support
Manipulate solid objects including lights and textures using software or hardware acceleration. All in real time. The direct manipulation design of trueSpace3 accelerates all aspects of your work.

trueSpace3 works like you work

· Constant Frame Rate
Constant Frame Rate maintains smooth motion in editing or navigation, regardless of the scene’s complexity. Your interaction with your work never gets interrupted.

· 3D Plug-Ins
trueSpace3 can grow according to your needs. trueSpace3 uses 32bit Adobe compatible plug-ins and includes free 3D eXtensions like Particle Fountain, Primitives Plus, and TrueView. And new trueSpace3 plug-ins are on their way for even more specialized effects.

· 3D Guides
Tool Guides explain each trueSpace3 tool just by clicking. You’ll get a full 3D simulation tutorial. Task oriented tutorials teach you how to build a building, spaceship or realistic animal. So you’ll be productive. Right now.

· Universal Authoring
Output to any medium, including Paper, Film, Video, AVI, HTML, or VRML without the need for translation filters. You won’t need to use external applications. You get an abundance of tools and the ability to publish in multiple media, all in the same workspace.

· 3D Sound
Attach audio to any 3D object with true positional 3D sound, attenuation and Doppler effect. trueSpace3 creates more realistic environments with navigation by sound, making your world a more sensory experience.

The Web

trueSpace3 seamlessly integrates Web functionality. You avoid programming, using friendly modeling and animation tools to create complex 3D Graphics, VRML objects and fully animated worlds.

· Integrated VRML 1.0 Browser with Publishing
Navigate to any VRML site, 1.0 edit, and save the changes with one button push using the Publish feature. All without leaving trueSpace3.

· In-lining, LOD and Polygon Reduction
Download only visible portions of VRML sites, and display objects with detail based on the distance from the viewer. Create several levels of detail for any object with the touch o f a button. So even large worlds will navigate smoothly.

Download at: caligari.com

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Filed under 3D Tools, DeskTop Publishing, Drawing Software, Free Full Versions, Freeware, Graphic Software, Multimedia Tools, Productivity Software, Software, Web Development, Windows Tips and Tools