Archive for August, 2008

Read this and save money on software to fix your computer.

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

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Last week I got an e-mail from a woman who had a problem with her Windows-based computer and had tried several different titles of software (including the one I mentioned in this post).  She had contacted one manufacturer who gave her an enormous list of things to do to try to clean things up.  She mentioned that she felt it odd to be given this list when the software should have done it for her (the first half of which were just deleting temporary files).  I agreed.

I believe she found my earlier post when searching for help with the software she’s already tried.  She had a problem, tried a number of software titles to fix it, started following the instructions she got from the one manufacturer, and now her e-mail program doesn’t work.  She found me and asked what software I would recommend.  In the end, I had to give her the bad news that it was a little late and her best option was to backup, reformat, reinstall, and restore.

Now, on to the question of which software I would recommend to fix problems in Windows.  The answer is a clear one based on years of trying various titles and encountering various issues.  There is not a single software title that I would recommend to fix problems with Windows.  I honestly believe that if you spend any money on such software you may as well get used to a lighter wallet and being no closer to solving the problem than you were before.

Many years ago I had tried one title that purported to keep Windows from crashing and allow you to figure out what went wrong or to at least be able to save your work before Windows came to a complete stand-still.  The version of Windows I was running at the time was 3.1.  This version was fairly notorious for crashing any time you blinked (and even then it was more stable than its 3.0 predecessor).  My system was running fairly stably at the time, however.  I installed this software and immediately regretted it.  I went from a crash frequency of a couple or so each week to several per day.  The feature that was touted to keep Windows running never worked as advertised.  Thankfully, when I removed the software, my computer returned to its original reliability.  As a result, I’ve been cautious of any other software to make these claims.

One of the problems with using software to fix problems with your computer is that not all of the problems you have are going to be software related.  You may also have some malicious software on your computer which will fight off being fixed.  I can’t think of a single title that would be “find problems in my hardware, fix problems in my software, and remove bad software you find” software.  If you have the talent and experience, you either won’t need software or you’ll know exactly what would be used to properly diagnose the problem.  If this isn’t your area of expertise, you may not get the correct combination of software to do yourself any good.  There’s also the possibility that you wouldn’t be able to interpret the results.

That being said, there is software out there that you can use to maintain your computer.  One that I use on a semi-regular basis is called CCleaner.  It’s an all-around good utility for removing excess junk from your computer which is running Windows.  By default it will purge your temporary file caches, internet browser caches, Recycle Bin, and a bunch of other caches.  I am conservative in what I allow it to delete.  As one example, I don’t allow it to delete browser cookies as some of them are convenient for the user.  I would use Spybot Search & Destroy instead to selectively remove ad-related cookies.  CCleaner can also clean up your registry.  I’m of a mixed opinion about this as the Windows registry (under current versions of Windows) is fairly self-maintaining.  While useless items won’t delete themselves, they generally aren’t harmful, either.  If you find this feature scary, don’t use it.  How much will you pay for this software?  Nothing.  The developers of both CCleaner and Spybot offer them for free.

There is a lot of good, free software out there.  There’s probably more bad, free software, though.  If you have a need, I’m probably aware of a good, free title that will do the job.  It may not have the polish of a commercial title, but it won’t cost you anything but a little time to give it a try.

Annoying malware out there, hits Macs as well.

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

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While there have been some proof-of-concept exploits out there, malware that affected the Macintosh operating system has been an extremely rare beast.   A new exploit out there appears to affect both Windows and Macintosh systems equally.  This new one appears to hit Firefox on both platforms.  It may affect other operating systems and browsers as well.  In fact, this post suggests that it will affect Safari on the Mac.

I’ve read about it on a few sites but a concise description can be found at The Register.  The gist is that it affects your computer by taking over the clipboard and permanently implanting the URL of a web site.  The only remedy appears to be to reboot your computer.  There may be other remedies, but a reboot appears reliable and effective.

I haven’t tried to infect myself to see what else can be done.  I generally try to avoid this as I don’t particularly like playing with fire.

One of the recommendations for preventing is by using a plugin for Firefox called NoScript.  I use this myself on my Firefox installations.  It combined with Adblock Plus keep me not only fairly safe, but allow web pages to load a little faster with fewer ads and other annoyances.  The downside is that NoScript itself can be an annoyance.  You have to use its menus to permit sites to run scripts either on a permanent or temporary basis.  It prevents Javascript, Flash, and pretty much any other scripting language out there.  I don’t normally recommend it to others unless they are willing to go through the additional hassle it creates.

Whether you use some kind of protection or prevention software, the big thing to take from this is to browse carefully.  The exploit appeared to have come from ads placed on popular sites that most will not usually think as being a source of bad things.