Category Archives: flash drive

Download Microsoft’s Free Microsoft Office Starter Edition 2010

Update: November 30 – This offer is no longer available.

In October of last year, I noted that Microsoft had begun a campaign to tear down OpenOffice by focusing on what Microsoft considered the downside of working with OpenOffice. This struck me as a bit unusual – after all, why waste time on those who can’t hurt your sales. Unless, that is, OpenOffice, LibreOffice and similar open source office suites, are in fact, “real competition” for Microsoft.

It seems that may well be the case since Microsoft has now released Office Starter Edition 2010 (as a freebie), which includes Microsoft Word Starter 2010 and Microsoft Excel Starter 2010 – it does not include PowerPoint or Outlook. Both included components function almost the same as the full editions.

No need to worry about licensing issues either – Office Starter 2010 is not a trial version – it will not expire. On top of that, installing the application to a USB stick makes for the perfect (sort of), portable office.

Installation is an easy task – both application download and installation combine in a seamless single process.

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Following installation you’ll find the application, and its components, neatly laid out in your “Start” menu as illustrated below.image

Word Starter 2010 screenshot:

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Excel Starter 2010 screenshot:

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Fast facts:

Create and edit basic Word documents and Excel spreadsheets with 100 percent file fidelity

Open existing Word and Excel documents

Manage a simple home budget

Write letters

Create newsletters with photos and easily send them out

System requirements: Windows 7, Windows Vista with Service Pack 1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2 and MSXML 6.0 (32-bit Office only), Windows Server 2008, or later 32- or 64-bit OS.

Download Office 2010 Starter at: Microsoft

There is some discussion, at the moment, as to just how long this offer from Microsoft will continue to be available so, if you’re interested, now might be the time to jump on this.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, downloads, flash drive, Free Office Suites, Freeware, Microsoft, Software, USB, Windows Tips and Tools

Solid State Drives – Do You Really Need One?

I’ve slowly faded from the ranks of the early adopter cult and instead, I now count myself amongst the laggards – those that are less likely to jump, with both feet, onto the new technology bandwagon.

No, it’s not because I’ve lost interest in technology. It’s just that so much of the “new” technology seems to be focused on connectedness – always on, always reachable, technology. I can easily admit – I’m not interested in being “always on”, or “always reachable”.

Still, I had an itch to give an SSD (Solid State Drive – no moving parts) a whirl. Since SSDs reportedly are capable of faster boot times, faster system shutdown, along with faster sleep and hibernation modes, scratching the itch was a no brainer – I just had to do it.  Faster application load times (including games), clinched it.

Following a trip to my supplier, I installed an OCZ Vertex Plus 60GB SATA II SSD (a tiny little thing!), into a test machine. Installing the drive was easy and straightforward.

Installed and secured the drive.

Connected the power and drive interface cables.

Set the BIOS so that the drive was recognized by the machine as the boot drive.

Installed Windows 7 Enterprise.

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OCZ Vertex Series SATA II 2.5″ SSD Specs:

Interface Type: SATA II

Buffer Memory: 64MB

Average Seek (msec): 0.1 – My first 10 MB HDD (back in the Jurassic Period, had a seek time of 198 msec.

Write Speed: up to 90 MB/sec

Read Speed: up to 185 MB/sec

Form Factor: 2.5″

MTBF: 1,500,000 hrs.

Temperature, Operating (°C): 0 to 70

Noticeable improvements following installation

Boot time: reduced from about 90 seconds, to roughly 15 seconds.

Application load times: appear to be at least twice as fast.

Application installation time: fast, fast, fast!

Gaming: this is the area in which I noted the biggest improvement. As strange as this may seem, characters in Far Cry 2 (the game I used for testing), moved faster. Initially, I assumed that my perception was off – but, no. Ubisoft, the well know game developer, has posted a comparison video which clearly shows the improvement in character speed – SSD versus HDD. Quite amazing!

Before proceeding with a series of Disk benchmarks, I took a look at the Windows Experience Index and happily noted a major improvement in Disk data transfer rate.

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Benchmark: SSD – OCZ Vertex Plus 60GB – SATA 2.

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Benchmark: HDD – Western Digital WD3200 320GB – 7200 RPM – SATA 2. Seek Time 8.9 ms. Read/Write Time 10.9 ms.

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Clearly, the Benchmark tests show the SSD running away with the prize for efficiency.  

Bottom line:

After running with this SSD, for a week or so, it’s easy to see why SSDs can lay claim to HDD “bottleneck elimination” – read and write speed, is what it’s all about. The boot takes only one sixth as long, application launches are at least twice as fast as with the Western Digital WD3200, and file handling speeds are dramatically improved. What’s not to like?

After experiencing the performance gain with an SSD configured as a boot and system drive, there’s no turning back. I can already see the cash in my accounts dwindling.   Smile

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Filed under flash drive, Hard Drive, Opinion, Solid State Drives, SSD, Windows Tips and Tools

Norman Malware Cleaner –Another Free Tool To Remove Tough Malware

Just like the 14 free specialty malware removal tools I wrote on earlier this year, Norman Malware Cleaner has been designed to identify tough malware infections, including specific malware, and then help you eradicate those infections.

Since this particular application is a stand alone executable, it does not require installation (perfect for a Flash Drive). Since scanning with the most recent definition database is a must, you will need to download a new version of the application on a per use basis.

On execution, you will be presented with the following end user agreement. This may be the shortest end user agreement I’ve ever seen.

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Despite the fact that this is a powerful application, setting the options is fairly straightforward.

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For the first test, I ran a simple Quick scan as illustrated in the following two screen captures.

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This scan completed in less than four minutes, and indicated that no infections were present.

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I then changed two critical group policies which duplicated common malware attacks – no access to the Task Manager, and restricted access to Windows Explorer (show hidden files).

As you can see in the following screen shot, Norman Malware Cleaner had no difficulty picking up on, and cleaning, these registry changes on a scan rerun.

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A scan results log file is saved to the desktop, as illustrated.

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Fast facts:

Detect and Remove malware (viruses, Rootkit’s, FakeAV, worms and more)

Utilize advanced Anti-Rootkit technology

Quarantine module

Scanning and cleaning including Norman patented Norman SandBox technology

Supports Quick- Normal- Full- Custom Scan mode

Command line function for better tailor scanning across several machines (businesses)

Daily signature updates available

Systems requirements: Windows 2000, XP, 2003, Vista, 2008 and Win 7.

Download at: Norman

Registration is required.

Note: This application is for use when you are dealing with a machine you know is infected. It is not a replacement for a real-time AV.

As with most tools in this class, advanced computer knowledge is required. Unless you feel confident in your diagnostic skills, you would be better off avoiding this application.

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, downloads, flash drive, Free Anti-malware Software, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Malware Removal, Portable Applications, Rogue Software Removal Tips, rootkits, Software, USB, Windows Tips and Tools, worms

Free Glary Undelete – Easily Recover Deleted Photos And More

frustrated 2Later today, I’m going to perform bit of magic and help a friend recover photos accidentally deleted from her camera. No, I’m not Harry Houdini (magic is definitely not my thing), but I certainly do know which application to run in a given situation, which to many users, has all the appearances of being magical.

When it’s time to recover deleted files from an SD Card, Hard Drive, Flash Drive, etc., my magical application of choice is Glary Undelete. This free recovery application, (from the developers of my all time favorite Windows utility – Glary Utilities), with its wizard driven interface, makes deleted file recovery just about as simple as it gets.

The easy Hard Drive solution that most of us can use, most of the time, is to simply restore the file from the Windows Recycle Bin. The Recycle Bin can be a life saver when a file has been accidentally deleted.

Normally, the deleted file sits in the Bin until you empty it, or restore the file. But, what if the file has been permanently removed from the Bin, to make room for more recently deleted files for example, when the maximum size allocated in the Recycle Bin properties has been exceeded? And yes, it does happen.

If you take a look at the Recycle Bin’s properties dialogue box, you’ll see that the Bin’s size can be customized – but initially, the maximum size is set by the OS. BTW, I don’t recommend that you turn off the Recycle Bin, as I have done here for my data partition.

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Still, all is not necessarily lost and here’s why: when a file is deleted from your Hard Drive, or portable media, what really gets deleted is the system link pointing to the file; but not the file itself.

Surprisingly, it can often be relatively easy to retrieve the deleted file, or a good portion of the file, using specialized file recovery software, which takes advantage of this reality.

To enhance the possibility of recovering the deleted file, rapid action is a prime requirement. File recovery software has limitations, so once you have realized you have deleted that important file; do not write any more files to the drive until you can run the recovery program.

Quick overview of Glary Undelete.

Filter searches by file name, file date, size, and recovery state.

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Sample photo recovery operation from my camera’s SD Card. Click graphic to expand to original.

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Undeleted Pic – you can see why I deleted it to begin with.   Smile

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Just for a bit of fun, I recovered a very large .wav file (5 hours of sound), I had deleted from the camera’s SD Card.

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I’ve had good success with this small application recovering deleted files, and I recommend that all users consider adding Glary Undelete to their toolbox. In computing, it pays to be a Boy Scout – “Be Prepared.”

Note: Glary makes the statement that this utility will, “even recover files that have been deleted by bugs, crashes and viruses”. I have not specifically tested this function.

Fast facts:

Supports FAT, NTFS, NTFS + EFS file systems

Supports recover compressed, fragmented and encrypted files on NTFS

Undelete files on portable media (SmartMedia, Secure Digital, MemoryStick, etc.)

Filter by file name, file date, size, and recovery state

Simple and user friendly interface

And more…

System Requirements: Windows Vista, XP, Windows 2003, Windows 2000, Windows 7.

Download at: Download.com

During the install, pay particular attention to the offer to install the Ask toolbar. I suggest you reject this offer.

Note: In Windows 7 (and Vista, I suspect), launching the application requires elevating privileges to an administrator level.

Final note: If you read user comments regarding this application on CNET, for example, you’re sure to find the usual whining and complaining posted by unsophisticated users who have not taken the time to become familiar with the application. Don’t be discouraged by this. Used properly, and in an intelligent manner, this application performs exactly as advertised.

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Filed under Computer Tools, downloads, File Recovery Software, flash drive, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, SD Card, Software, USB, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Free Dexpot – Virtual Desktops To The Max!

Dexpot (latest release May 29, 2011), is a very cool application which, in the freeware version, will allow you to work with up to twenty separate and distinct virtual Desktops. For example, you could be working with your Internet browser on one Desktop, word processor on another, gaming on another …….. The possibilities are endless, really.

Personally, I find the ability to be able to copy and paste between Desktops, a major productivity enhancer.

Since many of the graphics in this review are Desktop screen shots, and quite large, it’s necessary to click on these graphics in order to view the full effect.

The application is highly configurable  as the following two screen shots indicate.

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Each desktop can be configured independently to suit specific needs – including resolution, sounds, icons, background, and more – as the following screen grab indicates.

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All controls are easily reachable from the Windows notification icon.

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By clicking on the following screen capture to expand to its original 1682 pixels, you can readily see that there are four Desktops open. The focus is currently on Desktop two, where Internet Explore is running.

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Using the application’s Windows catalogue command, in the following screen capture I’ve illustrated what’s open on Desktop One.

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Desktop Two.

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Desktop Three.

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When you’re ready to close up shop – you’ll have the option of closing open applications, or moving them to the main Desktop.

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Fast facts:

Desktop Manager – Your small companion for presentations and every-day desktop switching.

Settings – A clean dashboard which offers everything you need for total control.

Window catalogue – Have you ever seen windows tiling? No? Well, it is about time then.

Configure desktops – It is hard to believe how independent virtual desktops can be.

Desktop Windows – How can one describe such functional glory in three lines?

Desktop Preview – In case you want to know what is up on other desktops.

Full-screen preview – Microsoft XP Powertoy, just more beautiful, simple, and better. Full-size.

Desktop Rules – This small but powerful component helps to distribute windows.

System requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Win 7. (64-bit compatible)

Download at: Developer’s site (Dexpot)

Dexpot to go – Dexpot portable: Download Dexpot portable if you want to use Dexpot on a mobile storage device (e.g. USB stick). If you need to make your current version of Dexpot portable, click here.

Note: For private use only.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Desktop Applications, Desktop Manager, Desktop Toys, downloads, flash drive, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Portable Applications, Software, USB, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

Lock Your Computer’s Folders With Free BuduLock

imageIf you’re on the hunt for a free privacy application designed to password protect folders on your drives, including USB drives, then you’ll be interested in BuduLock.

As a bonus, BuduLock will protect your PC from unauthorized USB flash drive access by implementing password protection – password protection which effectively disables USB operations on your system. Considering that malware infection by Flash Drives, is the second leading cause of system infection ….

This small application is driven by a self explanatory tabbed interface, which even less experienced users will find easy to follow. Simply choose the folder to be locked – enter a password – and you’re done.

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Browsing to the selected folder in Windows Explorer reveals that the folder has been successfully locked, as indicated by the “lock” icon – shown in the following screen capture.

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Unlocking the folder is the process in reverse. Launch the application – highlight the selected folder – enter your password – done.

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Flash Drive Blocker:

When you disable the USB port, unauthorized users (those without the password), will be denied access.

Flash Drive Blocker Requirements:

UAC setting (User Account Control) feature must be disabled to use this feature. (Go to Control Panel > User Account > Turn UAC On or Off)

No password is required during the initial setup – (blank password). To setup and change your password, go to “Change Password”.

BuduLock will only disable the USB port for flash drive for that particular computer. It does not disable your flash drive.

System requirements: Windows Vista, Win 7.

Download at: Developer’s site.

The application is slightly more cumbersome to use than it needs to be – no access is available by way of the context menu. The addition of context menu access to the lock/unlock function is an improvement the developer should consider.

Other than this convenience issue, I found BuduLock very easy to use and perfect for locking folders on shared machines.

Last in a series:

Additional articles in this series on encryption and privacy:

Free AxCrypt – Encrypt, Compress, Decrypt in Windows Explorer

TrueCrypt – Free Encryption To The Max

EncryptOnClick – Encrypt and Decrypt Files and Folders With A Few Clicks

Free Secret Disk – Keep Your Secret Computer Files “Secret”

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Filed under Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Encryption Software Alternatives, flash drive, Freeware, Privacy, Software, USB, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools

TrueCrypt – Free Encryption To The Max

imageSophisticated and  aware computer users know, that financial data and other confidential information, can easily be subject to intrusive viewing by those not authorized to do so.

Some examples of how this might occur:

Internet malware attack: Increasingly, statistics reinforce the fact that financial data continues to be targeted by hackers/information thieves, for the purpose of identity theft.

Contrast that reality with these facts; there is no such thing as a totally secure Internet connected computer. All Internet connected computers are subject to attack and compromise.

Lost or stolen Laptop: How often have we read the following – 200,00 (insert your own number here), bank account numbers, Social Insurance Numbers, names, addresses and dates of birth were on a laptop stolen/lost earlier this week.

In too many of these cases, negligently, the data is unencrypted. Certainly Laptop theft or loss is not restricted to organizations; it can just as easily happen to you.

Lost or stolen USB drive: Since USB flash drives are so portable, you can take a drive virtually anywhere. Just like most items that are portable and that you carry with you, this type of drive can be lost, or stolen.

To reduce or eliminate the security threat of sensitive data exposure then, the most prudent course of action is data encryption. Essentially, data encryption is a secure process for keeping your sensitive and confidential information private. It’s a process by which bits of data are mathematically jumbled with a password-key. The Encryption process makes the data unreadable unless, or until, decrypted.

TrueCrypt is an outstanding free open source software application (one I have been using for years), for establishing and maintaining an on-the-fly-encrypted volumes.

On-the-fly encryption simply means that data are automatically encrypted, or decrypted, just before they are loaded or saved, without any user intervention.

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TrueCrypt uses 11 algorithms for encrypting private files in a password-protected volume. You can store your encrypted data in files, partitions, or on a portable storage device such as a USB flash drive.

Once your encrypted files are mounted to a local drive with your password or key, you can manipulate those files, i.e. you can open, copy, delete, or modify them. When you have completed working on those files, you then dismount the volume and the files are then safely secured from unauthorized access.

Indicative of this application’s popularity is the fact that it is downloaded tens of thousands of times each day, across the Internet.

Fast Facts:

Creates a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk

Encrypts an entire hard disk partition or a storage device such as USB flash drive

Encryption is automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent

Provides two levels of plausible deniability, in case an adversary forces you to reveal the password – Hidden volume – No TrueCrypt volume can be identified (volumes cannot be distinguished from random data)

Encryption algorithms: AES-256, Serpent, and Twofish. Mode of operation: XTS

Ability to encrypt a system partition/drive (i.e. a partition/drive where Windows is installed) with pre-boot authentication (anyone who wants to gain access and use the system, read and write files, etc., needs to enter the correct password each time before the system starts

Pipelined operations increasing read/write speed by up to 100% (Windows)

Mac OS X version

Graphical user interface for the Linux version of TrueCrypt

XTS mode of operation – XTS is faster and more secure than LRW

As I said, I have been using TrueCrypt for a number of years, and I have developed a lot of confidence in this outstanding application. If you determine that encryption of your sensitive data is a priority, I highly recommend that you give TrueCrypt a try.

How effective is TrueCrypt? If you have any doubts as to how effective TrueCrypt really is, then read this article. FBI hackers fail to crack TrueCrypt:

The FBI has admitted defeat in attempts to break the open source encryption used to secure hard drives seized by Brazilian police during a 2008 investigation.

System Requirements: Windows 7/Vista/XP (64 bit), Mac OS X, and Linux

Download at: TrueCrypt

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Don't Get Hacked, downloads, Encryption, Encryption Software, Encryption Software Alternatives, flash drive, Freeware, Open Source, Software, USB, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools