Tag Archives: Windows 7

Free Tweak-SSD – SSD Tweaking and Optimization Software

Back when the World was young (1984) – and, me too for that matter – I bought my first Hard Drive. A mega sized 10 MB HD (yep, 10 MB – not 10 GB) with a seek time of 198 ms. I paid $800 ($1,780 in today’s coin) for this “Model T” of hard drives – which required one to invoke the DOS Park utility to secure the heads in case of misadventure.

It would be an understatement to say that we’ve come a long way since – but, I’ll say it. We’ve come a long way. Mechanical Hard Drives, while not quite passé, are becoming the new “Model T” of storage devices.

SSDs – Solid State Drives – which do not employ any moving mechanical components and, are far less susceptible to physical shock; capable of faster boot times; faster system shutdown; along with faster sleep and hibernation modes, are the choice of “serious” computer users.

I like to think of myself as a serious user so, just as soon as SSDs dropped in price to a reasonable level, off I went to my supplier and walked out with an OCZ Vertex Plus 60GB SATA II SSD (a tiny little thing), in hand.

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Both Windows 7, and Windows 8, set up nicely on an SSD and the OS will optimize the drive, to some extent. But, a user can take the optimization process much further. Doing so can increase an SSD’s response considerably.

I must admit, that I had no reason to quarrel with the response time of my OCZ Vertex Plus. Even so, when I happened to find a free application that promised to optimize the drive even further, to effect an additional increase in speed, I had to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Tweak-SSD – the freebie version – did exactly as advertised and increased performance noticeably. Some examples:

Boot time is as close to instant on as I’ve seen. No, it’s not really instant on – but, it’s not far off.

MS Word now opens in less than 2 seconds as opposed to 4/5 seconds previously.

Firefox opens virtually instantly.

In fact, broadly speaking, every application on the system opens noticeable faster following Tweak-SSD’s optimization.

Following the first boot after running the application, I’ll tell you frankly – I was astonished with the system performance. Wow, hardly describes my response.

The following is a quick walkthrough with this “push button” application:

A simple click on the Start bar gets the process underway. The application is designed to recommend suggested settings.

Clicking on any screen shot will expand it to it’s original size.

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Fast facts:

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System requirements: Windows 7, Windows 8 (both 32 bit and 64 bit editions).

Download at: Totalidea Software

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, downloads, Freeware, Hard Drive Tools, Solid State Drives

Windows 8 – What’s Not To Like?

imageI’ve been running Windows 8, almost exclusively, since the first (beta) release in September of last year. Despite my initial impressions (not favorable), I’ve made a 180 degree turn – I’m really into Win 8.

Despite the clunky Metro GUI, which I’ve managed to deal with by accepting it for what it is (and isn’t), and by acknowledging the fact that with a small amount of effort put into learning the navigation intricacies of this new OS, Windows 8 is “great.” I can assure you, that learning a few keyboard shortcuts necessary to take full advantage of Windows 8, was hardly the task that learning DOS 1 was, back in the day.

In my career, I’ve had to deal with 5/6 versions of DOS (each one requiring a commitment to skills development), a sprinkling of bolt-on DOS GUIs (learning required), 7 or more versions of Windows (learning required), as well as various flavors of Linux (learning required). Windows 8 (learning required), is just one more operating system in the continuing evolution of how users interact with computing devices.

It’s true that the Windows 8 user interface is a radical departure from the traditional desktop GUI. With the navigation system designed with swiping features, slider menus, and so on, it’s obviously designed with Tablet PCs and Smartphones in mind. There’s no doubt – it certainly forces a readjustment in the comfort level of experienced Desktop users – there’s that learning thing again.

Users can, of course, choose to stand pat and resist evolutionary change, But, those who continue to brush this OS aside are making a mistake, in my view. Windows 8 has a lot to offer, including – vastly reduced boot time, blazingly fast application load time , a very small memory footprint, and considerably enhanced security over previous versions.

On top of all that though, Windows 8 includes a “killer feature” – PC Refresh. Or, as some Microsoft people have been known to call this feature – “push-button reset.”

Call me crazy if you like, but I’m a firm believer in reformatting and reinstalling my operating systems regularly. It’s a relatively easy task since I run multiple drives – each of which is partitioned for specific types of data storage.

Windows 8 has made this task somewhat easier. Windows 8 “push-button reset” will automatically reinstall Windows while at the same time – keeping all personal data, Metro style apps, and important system settings. This is not a perfect reinstall solution since pre-Windows 8 programs are not reinstalled.

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Those apps that are not reinstalled can be referenced in an HTML file which PC Refresh automatically saves to the desktop.

There’s little doubt that Win 8 advances computing technology in a number of very substantial ways, much beyond the few improvements I mentioned earlier. All-in-all, I’m glad I didn’t bounce this OS off my test system after 7 days – my first response to the Metro GUI.

But, the absence of the familiar Start Menu which allows for Shutdown/Restart commands, which has been shunted aside in favor of an ineffective barebones replacement (shown below), has cramped my style somewhat.

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Working through 2/3 levels of menus to restart/shutdown is inefficient, so I’ve installed one of my all-time favorite utilities – Right-Click Extender Version 2 – which added a Restart and a Shutdown command (shown below), to the Desktop context menu. Problem solved!

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Right-Click Extender has proven to be one of the most important free utilities (considering my style of computing), I’ve yet found. It can add amazing functionality to various right click context menus.

If you missed my earlier review, and walkthrough, on Right-Click Extender Version 2, I’ve reposted it below. It’s worth a read/reread.

Right-Click Extender Version 2 – Adds Multiple Context Menu Commands

imageThe “right click context menu” in Windows is a hidden gem. I know, you’re thinking – wait a minute, the right click context menu isn’t hidden, I use it all the time. And, I’ll bet you do. But, you might be surprised to learn, that if you were to ask an average user about this menu, the chances are pretty good that you’d get a blank look in return.

If you’re a power user and a fan of the right click context menu, then you’ll be interested in the Right-Click Extender Version 2 (released March 11, 2010)  from The Windows Club, which will add a bag full of additional context menu support  in the following categories – File/Folder, Desktop, Drives, and MyComputer.

Following installation and execution of this free application, setting up and selecting the context menu items best suited to your needs is a snap – as the following series of screen shots shows. (Clicking on any graphic will expand it to its original size).

File Folder Setup.

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Desktop Menu Setup.

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Desktop Menu Options Setup.

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The following is an example, from my system, illustrating selective context menu items available to me on the Desktop following installation of the Right-Click Extender, Version 2.

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The following is an example, from my system, illustrating selective Windows Explorer context menu items available to me, following installation of the Right-Click Extender Version 2.

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If the right click context menu is a tool you use frequently, installing Right-Click Extender Version 2, should help give a boost to your productivity.

System Requirements: Windows Vista, Windows 7 (sorry, not designed for Windows XP). As noted earlier, I’m running with Right-Click Extender Version 2 on Windows 8 with no problems.

Download at: MajorGeeks.com

The Windows Club offers a range of helpful Windows freeware apps – checkout their home page here.

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Filed under downloads, Freeware, Integrated Solutions, Windows 8

Windows 8 Satisfies The Need For Speed

imageI’m a speed sensitive kind of guy – when it comes to computing, that is. Late last year, to satisfy my need for speed, I installed a Solid State Drive – running Windows 7 Enterprise – in place of a Western Digital HDD, as a boot drive.

The benefits of running with an SSD were immediately noticeable – faster boot times, faster system shutdown, faster application load times (including games), along with faster sleep and hibernation modes.

In the meantime, Windows 8 Consumer Preview was dropped on my doorstep – and, since there is some degree of SSD optimization built into Windows 8, taking the opportunity to race with this new engine was a natural fit.

It’s been quite a race – Windows 8 is perceptibly faster on my hardware than on the same configuration running Windows 7. Not milliseconds faster – but, measurable faster. Still, there’s little real value in a single user’s Windows 8 running experience. Hardware is a variable – system configurations are variable – usage factors need to be considered, and so on.

So, rather than write a full report on my personal experience running Windows 8, I gave Sandro Villinger from TuneUp Software (the developers of TuneUp Utilities 2012) a buzz to get his take on Windows 8.

Thank goodness for Skype – a planned 15 minute call to Germany turned into a 2 hour conversation – much of it focused on the state of Internet journalism. A conversation so satisfying, that it led me to craft an article on a number of issues raised in conversation, which I’ll post in the next few days.

But, I digress.

As it turns out, Sandro and his team had tested Windows 8 extensively – not just on a single system – but, on a mix of hardware which included Desktops, Laptop/Tablets, and a low powered Intel Atom Netbook.

Sandro has generously shared his extremely comprehensive report with me – which I’ve posted below. If you’ve had any questions regarding Windows 8 performance capabilities, then Sandro’s report is just what you’ve been waiting for.

Enjoy the read.   Smile

A Close Look at Windows 8 Performance: Winners and Losers

Don’t let the shiny new Metro interface of Windows 8 fool you—the new operating system (OS) has been improved not just with a spanking new outfit but also in the performance department. For instance, Microsoft’s future OS needs to work with both high-end PCs as well as small-factor devices like ARM and low-powered Intel tablets, which is why its overall footprint needed to be reduced drastically.

As VentureBeat noted, “Windows 8’s secret feature [is] resurrecting old PCs.” Microsoft promised that Windows 8 would run equally well or better on low-powered machines than Windows 7. This is a bold statement, but the real question is, did the company deliver? In this blog post, we’ll explore that with early benchmarks, showing if and how much Windows 8’s performance compares to Windows 7’s on the very same machines.

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Windows 8 has been optimized from the ground up to work great with low-powered mobile devices. But how fast is it really? Our lab tests will give you the answers.

Our Test Beds: A Broad Range

To get comparable results, we put Windows 8 through a variety of tests on several very differently equipped systems. We used:

  • Two Desktop PCs: We installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on both a 2007-era desktop PC (Core 2 Duo, 2.66 GHz) and a recent Alienware gaming rig (Core i7 930, 8 GB RAM).
  • Two Laptops/Tablets: We also tested a low-powered Core i7 1.8 GHz, 4 GB RAM 13” laptop, which includes a 256 GB SSD, as well as an Asus EP121 tablet sporting a Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 64 GB SSD.
  • Netbook: We used a very common Samsung NC10 netbook running a 1.6 GHz Intel Atom and 2 GB of RAM.

We didn’t install any tools on those machines except for the applications that we frequently use for benchmarking. As usual, we performed all tests three times to get a good idea of the results. As usual, we put both OSs through the typical rounds of analyzing boot time, raw processing power and application launch speed. However, since this is a Consumer Preview, we just want to give a quick impression rather than perform a full-blown review—we’ll save that for later!

#1 – Boot Time Performance

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Windows 8 is widely known for booting up extremely quickly. I used a stopwatch to determine how long it took until the desktop under Windows 7 and the new Metro user interface under Windows 8 was visible. The results will blow you away.

On all machines, Windows 8 was able to surpass its predecessor—right out of the gate, the new OS booted much more quickly. Once the final version hits, we’ll go through our usual paces of running Windows Performance Analyzer to determine if and how much background activity during boot was reduced.

#2 – Processes on a Fresh System

Last September, Microsoft boasted about less processes and reduced RAM consumption. Obviously, the less things that are running in the background, the better performance and longer battery life will be, as idle times are much higher. Right after we clean installed both Windows 7 and Windows 8, we compared the usage.

What we found was not necessarily a big achievement, but an achievement nonetheless. We saw a decrease of five processes as well as a drop in RAM usage by about 100 MB. In your day-to-day routine, this won’t be of particular help. What is helpful, however, are the drastically reduced idle activities. On Windows 8, Microsoft managed to reduce overall background activity noticeably—both on the software and on the driver side. By default, the bare OS’s processes and services rarely cause any noticeable spikes.

#3 – Application Start-up Times

Application start-up times give us a good indication of the OS’s ability to pre-load data and quickly manage smaller file chunks. To test this, we “trained” Windows’s own SuperFetch feature by loading Outlook 2010 every morning at exactly 9 a.m. and keeping it running on both the Windows 7 SP1 and the Windows 8 OSs all day long. After a couple of days, Windows had adapted. Then, we were able to use the trusty AppTimer, which automatically launches applications and measures start-up times down to the millisecond.

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Now, how long does it take? We only performed this test on the Core i7 1.8 GHz laptop.

There was a difference in so called “cold” and “warm” startups – cold refers to the first startup of the application right after boot, and warm refers to subsequent launches that are all completely loaded from memory and, thus, faster. The differences were hardly noticeable, but there was a clear trend towards Windows 8 loading applications a tad slower; however, this could be attributed to hard disk controller drivers.

#4 – Office Performance

To test day-to-day performance, we used the dependable PCMark 7 benchmark tool that automatically performs tasks such as website rendering, virus scans, photo manipulation and video editing. It should easily prove how well Windows 8 can handle both CPU and hard disk heavy tasks.

We found mixed results. While Windows 8 achieved quite a leap in performance on the faster machines, the lower-end devices, especially the netbook, actually suffered a bit. This ran noticeably slower during the tests, which was also noticeable during day-to-day usage.

#5 – Gaming Performance

The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. benchmark is a very well established test program designed to measure frames per second in DirectX games. As usual, we performed all tests three times and averaged the results.

The gaming front seems to profit from Windows 8’s reduced memory usage and apparent optimization to DirectX. But, those results should be taken with a grain of salt: Windows 8 installed some more recent beta drivers that were not available for Windows 7 SP1.To compensate for the effect, we downloaded the most recent beta drivers for nVIDIA and Intel onboard graphics. Overall, the netbook suffered a small amount again, while the faster machines gained quite a bit of performance.

#6 – Overall Verdict: Good Improvements, Some Losses

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview runs well on higher-end devices, but we were surprised to see that it lost some performance on lower-end machines—the very exact devices that it’s supposed to run well on. However, I’ll wait for the release candidate to make a final judgment. We may have an odd combination of unfinished drivers and code and bugs that may affect benchmarks (which is exactly why I only used a handful of my tests to get a general feel for new OS’s performance).

Overall, Windows 8 is going in the right direction. However, judging bare operating systems can only reveal so much.We’ll find out how it really works when we’re able to test third-party applications and the Metro-style apps. Do these negatively impact performance over time? We’ll find out in part two of our Windows 8 performance series.

A Close Look at Windows 8 Performance: Winners and Losers (Part 2)

In last week’s blog post, we performed some early performance benchmarks and compared Windows 7 SP1 with the recently released Windows 8 Consumer Preview. While speed improved in some scenarios, other aspects suffered a bit. However, the important thing to remember is, performance doesn’t just depend on the underlying operating system (OS); it also relies on the applications that run constantly in the background.

Third-Party Applications: Still a Problem

I’ve now been productively working with Windows 8 for a couple of weeks! I have been using this OS day in and day out and have installed all of my applications.

While I was surprised by the system’s initial responsiveness, overall speed reduced after installing about 80 programs, which consisted of Skype, Live Messenger, SnagIt and games and office applications. It didn’t slow things down to a crawl, but it introduced quite a bit of lag and noticeably less performance—so I found myself again having to use tools such as TuneUp Program Deactivator, Autoruns, Startup Manager and Windows’ own service tools to turn off certain applications. This isn’t out of the ordinary though. It’s a fact of life, and Microsoft will likely stay away from this department, despite the fact that the company has introduced quite a nice Task-Manager that shows the impact of start-up applications.

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Closed Apps Still Run in the Background

Having worked with Windows 8 on both a desktop and a tablet, in addition to switching between a variety of apps, I noticed a bit of a lag when handling apps. First, switching between apps had a delay of between one second and several seconds. Second, the system slowed down in “classic desktop” mode although no applications were running.

Microsoft promised several times on its Engineering 8 Blog that inactive applications would be frozen and couldn’t consume PC resources. When looking at the multi-tasking switcher on the left, I was proven right. Windows 8 actively held about six apps at a time before apparently closing them. What I found instead, however, annoyed me a bit. The so-called frozen applications remain in the background.

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While only the most critical of those apps were active in the background (Mail, Messaging, Music, etc.), all other apps just sat there consuming memory. Overall, I had about 500 MB worth of apps sitting in memory and not doing a whole lot. That’s not as bad as some browsers, but it’s still not quite as effective as it could be.

Why is this happening? The memory is actually consumed by the frozen state of the app. This means that once an app is closed (which is done by a swiping gesture from the top to the bottom of the screen), it can be resumed instantly. Even though this is a good feature, most users likely aren’t aware that this instant resume may have a detrimental effect on performance—and there are applications that most people only start once, use for 10 minutes and don’t touch again. So why keep those apps =running in the background?

Of course, a restart purges the memory of all app states, but many users go a long time without ever shutting down or restarting their PCs. In fact, Microsoft has designed Windows 8 to be more of an “Always On Standby” experience—they hide the restart and shutdown buttons in the charms menu and encourage users to use their power buttons to go to standby.

Is this really a problem? Well, it all depends on the usage of the user. If you’re just using three or four of your favorite apps, this doesn’t concern you. A hundred MB won’t make a huge difference. If you’re using a wide array of Metro-style apps and switch back to your classic desktop applications, this might affect performance. Having half a gig of apps sitting in memory just waiting for you to start them again is detrimental to performance. I wish apps would actually close if you perform the aforementioned swipe gesture.

Again, it’s very early to talk about these things. Windows 8 is in its Consumer Preview stage, but I am not sure if Microsoft really is considering giving back more control to the user who actually wants it. We’ll keep you up-to-date on this.

Sandro Villinger’s professional background – IT Journalist/Consultant

Managing Editor: Hewlett-Packard HPIO Germany

PR Manager/Technical Consulting: TuneUp Software GmbH

Publications US: IDG ITWorld, HP Input/Output, TuneUp Blog

Publications DE:  ComputerBILD, PC Pr@xis, MS Press, Windows-Tweaks.info

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Filed under Operating Systems, Reports, Software, Windows 8

OPSWAT’s March 2012 Security Industry Market Share Analysis

imageWindows XP is dead-dead-dead. After all, Windows XP is a has-been in the world of operating systems – now 2+generations behind – and, eating dust. Or, so say all the pundits.

If you’re an XP user, as I am, then you can take some solace from OPSWAT’s latest quarterly report (released today), bolstered by more than 353,000 data points, which clearly shows Windows XP continues to hold substantial market share. In fact, according to OPSWAT’s data – Windows XP remains the most popular Windows operating system in both North America and worldwide, with slightly under half of computers using XP.

I’ll point out – I also run with Windows 7 and, Windows 8 Consumer Preview (a super system once one has crossed the “I have to learn some new stuff” barrier) – both of which are considerably safer overall than XP. So, I have no ax to grind – but, I do have an XP horse in the race. There’s little doubt of course, that XP will eventually disappear from the scene – but, not quite yet.

Windows 7, and rightfully so, continues to blaze ahead in the race to displace XP from its preeminent market position and, as shown in the following OPSWAT graphic, now commands better than 46% of the operating system market both in North America, and world wide. Windows Vista on the other hand, is barely on the horizon.

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Graphic courtesy OPSWAT

Additionally, the OPSWAT report takes a close look at world wide and North American Antivirus vendors market share and, the gathered information in this latest report shows virtually no shift in market penetration from previous reports. In the world wide market place, the same Top 10 players, as expected, continue to hold substantial positions.

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Graphic courtesy OPSWAT

In the North American marketplace, the same high penetration ratios exist although, the players shift position – with Symantec jumping into first position overall, from its sixth position worldwide.

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Graphic courtesy OPSWAT

Microsoft, as shown in the following graphic, continues to gain ground with a fairly dramatic shift in growth.

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As in previous OPSWAT reports, free security solutions remain at the top of the market with the highest numbers of installations. The top three products in North America, and worldwide, are available free for download.

OPSWAT’s analysis of the peer to peer application market share surprised me somewhat, since it showed LimeWire continuing to hold a market share -despite a court injunction prohibiting the use of the application, dated October 26, 2010.

On the other hand, there was no surprise in seeing µTorrent maintaining its lead over the competition in the public file sharing application market – as the following graphic indicates.

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Graphic courtesy OPSWAT

The full report which is chock fill of absorbing statistics is available here.

So, who is OPSWAT?

If you’re a techie, then you’re very likely familiar with AppRemover, a free powerful anti-malware, antivirus application remover, and Metascan Online, a free online file scanner – both from OPSWAT. Beyond this direct connection however, you might not be familiar with OPSWAT.

From the site:

OPSWAT is the industry leader in software management SDKs, interoperability certification and multiple-engine scanning solutions. Our solutions are simplified and comprehensive, solving complex development problems to reduce time and costs for your engineering and testing teams.

OPSWAT offers software manageability solutions to streamline technology partnerships between leading technology solutions and software vendors. By enabling seamless compatibility and easy management capabilities, we make connecting your solutions with other software applications effortless.

Our innovative multi-scanning solutions deliver optimized anti-malware protection that increases detection rates without sacrificing performance with slow and cumbersome scans. Because no single anti-malware engine can catch every threat, we combine multiple engines to scan simultaneously, significantly improving the probability of detecting a threat.

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Filed under OPSWAT, Reports

Zorin Linux OS – The Look And Feel Of Windows 7

imageThere was a time, when Linux was crazy difficult to install and run on a PC. Those days are long gone, and running Linux, in various flavors, couldn’t get much easier. Average users simple want to point and click, and Linux based operating systems, by and large, allow them to do just that.

There’s no doubt that Windows and Linux are not the same operating system under the hood. But, average users don’t look under the hood of an OS – not in Windows – not in Linux.

Having worked with Windows 8, Developer Edition, since its release date –  I can assure you, running Linux (with the small initial differences from Windows), is a snap compared to the effort needed to rethink virtually every move in Windows 8. I say this, not because I’m down on Windows 8 (it has its place, and under the hood, there are substantial improvements), but, because I’m “up” on Linux.

I’ve been running dual boot systems for years – various flavors of Windows, and various flavors of Linux. With good reason – I wouldn’t, for example, do my online banking in any OS other than Linux. So, I’m comfortable with the idea that I can offer my opinion on how “hard” or how “easy” it is, to run with Linux.

Installing a Linux distro to run side-by-side with Windows (no partitioning required), is dead easy – and, on Startup, you’ll have a choice as to what OS to boot. It’s been my experience that Linux generally boots 2/3 times faster than Windows.

So, having said all that – let me introduce you to Zorin OS – a Ubuntu based Linux distro – which is built around an intuitive point and click user interface  -similar in layout, and function, to Windows 7.

If you would feel more comfortable with a Windows XP look – no problem. Zorin’s built-in Look Changer lets you change your desktop to look and act like either Windows 7, Windows XP, or a straight Linux look.

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Take a peek at the following graphics from the developer – I think you’ll be impressed.

Zorin OS runs on various platforms

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Start Menu

Start Menu expanded.

Desktop cube

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Multimedia applications running

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Look Changer

Software center

Fast facts:

Top-notch security – Thanks to Zorin OS’s immunity to Windows viruses you will never have to worry about them. Zorin OS also comes with integrated firewall software to keep your system extra safe. When a potential security threat arises, software updates usually come within a matter of hours through the Update Manager.

Easy to use, familiar desktop – The main goal of Zorin OS is to give Windows users easy access to Linux. That is why Zorin OS incorporates the familiar Windows 7-like interface by default, to dramatically reduce the learning curve of this system while still experiencing the main advantages of Linux.

Out-of-the-box software solution – From the versatile LibreOffice suite to the feature-packed OpenShot video editor, it’s got it all. Zorin OS is sure to facilitate all of your everyday tasks such as web browsing, document creation, social networking, making videos, chatting with your friends and beyond, all without having to install anything.

Software Galore – If the pre-installed software isn’t enough for your requirements there is no need to worry about it. Zorin OS comes with the Software Center which allows users to download and install tens of thousands of free programs. All you have to do is open the Software Center from the start menu, find a program which you want and click Install. You can even install Windows programs on Zorin OS in a similar way with PlayOnLinux.

Compatibility – Nearly every file that you use with your current operating system will work perfectly in Zorin OS with no need for additional setup. All your office documents, music, videos, pictures etc. will work out of the box in Zorin OS. Zorin OS also supports a large library of devices such as printers, scanners, cameras, keyboards. These devices will work as soon as you plug them in without the need for installing additional drivers.

Flexibility – Zorin OS gives users more flexibility. It allows you to use Zorin OS alongside your current operating system. While you install Zorin OS to your computer you have the option to keep your current operating system alongside Zorin OS and choose which one to load on start-up.

Zorin Internet Browser Manager – The default web browser in Zorin OS is Google Chrome. For those who want to use other web browsers, we have included our exclusive program called the Zorin Internet Browser Manager which makes installing and uninstalling web browsers simple and quick.

Social from the start – Zorin OS has been built with you in mind so staying in touch with your friends easily was a large aspect of building Zorin OS. The Me Menu lets you access your Facebook and Twitter accounts straight from the desktop. You can connect to all your favorite chat channels and make updates through a single window with Gwibber. Instant Messaging chat with Empathy is super simple. Quickly integrate your chat accounts from Facebook Chat, Yahoo, Google Talk, MSN, Jabber, AIM, QQ and many other sources and start talking.

Minimum system requirements:

700 MHz x86 processor
3GB of Hard Drive space
376 MB of system memory (RAM)
Graphics card capable of 640×480 resolution
Sound card

Downloads: both 32 bit and 64 bit.

The Core, Lite and Educational versions, are available to download for free from the Free download page.

The Premium versions (Business, Gaming, Multimedia and Ultimate), are available in exchange for a donation on the Premium page for a physical DVD, or a download.

I’ve been running with Zorin OS on and off – from a bootable DVD – for the last several months and, I must say – I’ve been very impressed.

I pointed out earlier – “It’s been my experience that Linux generally boots 2/3 times faster than Windows”. This is not the case when running from a DVD. Should you decide to go this route, you will encounter a much slower response than an installation will provide.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, Alternatives to Windows, downloads, Freeware, Linux, Operating Systems

Right-Click Extender 2 Goes Great With Windows 8

In a recent quickie on running with Windows 8, I made the following comment –

The Windows 8 user interface is a radical departure from the traditional desktop UI and as such, it fails to satisfy my basic requirements. Since a desktop is my primary work unit, I have little interest in swiping features, keyboard shortcuts, slider menus and  an OS navigation system designed with a Tablet PC, or a Smartphone, in mind.

After running with Win 8 for 30+ days, I haven’t revised my opinion regarding the Metro GUI – it still sucks. Nevertheless, Windows 8 has a lot to offer, including – vastly improved boot time, application load time is blazingly fast, memory footprint is very small, and the new Task manager (shown below), is a huge improvement over previous versions.

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There’s little doubt that Win 8 advances computing technology in a number of very substantial ways, much beyond the few improvements I mentioned earlier – especially in that most important of areas – system security. All-in-all, I’m glad I didn’t bounce this OS off my test system after 7 days – my first response to the Metro GUI.

Learning to use a few basic keyboard shortcut navigation commands (not such a big deal), has vastly improved my comfort level with Microsoft’s new direction. But, the absence of the familiar Start Menu, which has been shunted aside in favor of an ineffective barebones replacement (shown below), has cramped my style somewhat.

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For example – working through 2/3 levels of menus to restart/shutdown is inefficient (just one of the crunch points with this GUI), so I’ve installed one of my all-time favorite utilities – Right-Click Extender Version 2 – which added a Restart and a Shutdown command (shown below), to the Desktop context menu. Problem solved!

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Right-Click Extender has proven to be one of the most important free utilities (considering my style of computing), I’ve yet found. It can add amazing functionality to various right click context menus.

If you missed my earlier review, and walkthrough, on Right-Click Extender Version 2, I’ve reposted it below. It’s worth a read/reread.

Right-Click Extender Version 2 – Adds Multiple Context Menu Commands

imageThe “right click context menu” in Windows is a hidden gem. I know, you’re thinking – wait a minute, the right click context menu isn’t hidden, I use it all the time. And, I’ll bet you do. But, you might be surprised to learn, that if you were to ask an average user about this menu, the chances are pretty good that you’d get a blank look in return.

If you’re a power user and a fan of the right click context menu, then you’ll be interested in the Right-Click Extender Version 2 (released March 11, 2010)  from The Windows Club, which will add a bag full of additional context menu support  in the following categories – File/Folder, Desktop, Drives, and MyComputer.

Following installation and execution of this free application, setting up and selecting the context menu items best suited to your needs is a snap – as the following series of screen shots shows. (Clicking on any graphic will expand it to its original size).

File Folder Setup.

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Desktop Menu Setup.

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Desktop Menu Options Setup.

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The following is an example, from my system, illustrating selective context menu items available to me on the Desktop following installation of the Right-Click Extender, Version 2.

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The following is an example, from my system, illustrating selective Windows Explorer context menu items available to me, following installation of the Right-Click Extender Version 2.

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Fast facts:

File and Folder Options:

add or remove Copy To

add or remove Move To

add or remove Admin Command Prompt

add or remove Encrypt/Decrypt

add or remove File List Create

add or remove My Computer God Mode

add or remove Hide File

add or remove Unhide File

add or remove Hide Folder

add or remove Unhide Folder

add or remove Take Ownership

Desktop Options:

add or remove Flip3D

add or remove Desktop God Mode

add or remove Control Panel

add or remove Task Manager

add or remove Administrative Tools

add or remove Registry Editor

If the right click context menu is a tool you use frequently, installing Right-Click Extender Version 2, should help give a boost to your productivity.

System Requirements: Windows Vista, Windows 7 (sorry, not designed for Windows XP). As noted earlier, I’m running with Right-Click Extender Version 2 on Windows 8 with no problems.

Download at: MajorGeeks.com

The Windows Club offers a range of helpful Windows freeware apps – checkout their home page here.

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Filed under 64 Bit Software, downloads, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Software, System Utilities, Windows 8, Windows Tips and Tools

Avoid Accidents On The Internet Highway By Patching Your OS AND Applications

This morning, I read Ed Bott’s latest (Bott is a favorite of mine) – If your PC picks up a virus, whose fault is it? Here’s a summary –

Want to avoid being attacked by viruses and other malware? Two recent studies reveal the secret: regular patching. A fully patched system with a firewall enabled offers almost complete protection against drive-by attacks and outside intruders.

While reading through Bott’s  article, I was certainly put in mind of Yogi Berra’s often quoted “This is like deja vu all over again.” Current Internet security, and the best practices associated with it, really is “deja vu all over again” – and over, and over, and over. The fundamentals haven’t changed. Common sense is as much in vogue now, as it ever was.

In his article (which is worth a read), Bott relies on two recently released studies to bolster his point, that staying safe online, begins with “regular patching …….. the single most important element in any security program”.

Since the underlying theme is something I hammer on here, on a regular basis, it goes without saying that I agree with Bott, and the data generated in the studies. With that in mind, I’m reposting an article which I wrote in July 2010 – If You Get A Malware Infection Who’s Fault Is It Really? – which underscores the importance of patching not only the operating system, but the often neglected patching of installed applications.

If You Get A Malware Infection Who’s Fault Is It Really?

imageThe security industry, especially security analysts, and for that matter, computer users at large, love to dump on Microsoft when they get a malware infection. If only Microsoft got their act together, the theory goes, and hardened Windows more appropriately, we wouldn’t have to deal with this nonsense.

But, what if it isn’t entirely Microsoft’s fault? What if it’s really a shared responsibility split between Microsoft, third party software developers, and the user?

From time to time, I’m accused of being “too frank”; usually on those occasions when diplomacy needs to be put aside, so that realities can be dealt with. For example, I’ve left myself open to criticism, in some quarters, by stating on more than one occasion –

It has been my experience, that when a malware infection occurs, it’s generally safe to say, the user is, more often than not, responsible for their own misfortune.

Computer users, by and large, are lackadaisical in securing their computers against threats to their Internet safety and security.

Strong statements I’ll admit, but if you consider the following, which I have repeated over and over, you’ll understand why I feel comfortable making this statement.

Not all users make use of Microsoft’s Windows Update so that they are current with operating system critical updates, and security fixes. More to the point, few users have given consideration to the vulnerabilities that exist in third party productivity applications and utilities.

Unless you monitor your system for insecure and unpatched software installations, you have left a huge gap in your defenses – it’s just plain common sense.

The just released Secunia Half Year Report – 2010, shows “an alarming development in 3rd party program vulnerabilities, representing an increasing threat to both users and business, which, however, continues to be greatly ignored”, supports my view that security is a shared responsible, and blaming Microsoft simply ignores the reality.

The report goes on to conclude, “users and businesses still perceive the operating system and Microsoft products to be the primary attack vector, largely ignoring 3rd party programs, and finding the actions to secure these too complex and time-consuming. Ultimately this leads to incomplete patch levels of the 3rd party programs, representing rewarding and effective targets for criminals.”

Key highlights of the Secunia Half Year Report 2010:

Since 2005, no significant up-, or downward trend in the total number of vulnerabilities in the more than 29,000 products covered by Secunia Vulnerability Intelligence was observed.

A group of ten vendors, including Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, IBM, Adobe, and Cisco, account on average for 38 percent of all vulnerabilities disclosed per year.

In the two years from 2007 to 2009, the number of vulnerabilities affecting a typical end-user PC almost doubled from 220 to 420, and based on the data of the first six months of 2010, the number is expected to almost double again in 2010, to 760.

During the first six months of 2010, 380 vulnerabilities or 89% of the figures for all of 2009 has already been reached.

A typical end-user PC with 50 programs installed had 3.5 times more vulnerabilities in the 24 3rd party programs installed than in the 26 Microsoft programs installed. It is expected that this ratio will increase to 4.4 in 2010.

The full report (PDF), is available here.

Each week, I receive the Qualys Vulnerability Report, and I never fail to be astonished by the huge number of application vulnerabilities listed in this report. I’ve always felt, that the software industry should thank their “lucky stars”, that this report is not particularly well known outside the professional IT security community. It’s that scary.

There is a solution to this quandary however – the Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI).

PSI constantly monitors your system for insecure software installations, notifies you when an insecure application is installed, and even provides you with detailed instructions for updating the application when available.

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ZD Net, one of my favorite web sites has stated “Secunia Personal Software Inspector, quite possibly the most useful and important free application you can have running on your Windows machine”. In my view, this is not an overstatement.

Installing this small free application will definitely assist you in identifying possible security leaks; give it a try.

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Quick facts:

The Secunia PSI is free for private use.

Downloaded over 800,000 times

Allows you to secure your PC – Patch your applications – Be proactive

Scans for Insecure and End-of-Life applications

Verifies that all Microsoft patches are applied

Tracks your patch-performance week by week

Direct and easy access to security patches.

Detects more than 300,000 unique application versions

Provides a detailed report of missing security related updates

Provides a tabbed report which indicates programs that are no longer supported – programs with all known patches – insecure programs, etc.

Provides a Toolbox offering a set of links which helps you assess a problem and how you can resolve it.

System Requirements: Windows 2000, XP 32/64bit, Vista 32/64bit, and Win 7 32/64bit.

Download at: Secunia

Bonus: Do it in the Cloud – The Secunia Online Software Inspector, (OSI), is a fast way to scan your PC for the most common programs and vulnerabilities; checking if your PC has a minimum security baseline against known patched vulnerabilities.

System Requirements: Windows 2000, XP 32/64bit, Vista 32/64bit, and Win 7 32/64bit.

Link: Secunia Online Software Inspector

As an added bonus for users, Secunia provides a forum where PSI users can discuss patching, product updates, exploits, the PSI, and anything else security-related.

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Filed under Anti-Malware Tools, Application Vulnerabilities, Diagnostic Software, downloads, Freeware, Malware Protection, Secunia, Software, System Security, Utilities, Windows Tips and Tools