Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

I’m changing one of the backup tools in my “bag”

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

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Depending upon the situation, I’ve been using either Microsoft’s SyncToy, 2BrightSparks’s SyncBack, or Cobian Backup. However, I’ve encountered what I consider a serious deficiency in SyncToy. If anything changes with the backup drive (e.g. the drive letter changes), you cannot change it within SyncToy. Instead, you must create a new folder pair.

I generally preferred SyncToy over the free version of SyncBack as it wouldn’t spontaneously add new folders which were under a folder tree not being backed up. SyncBack would usually be my alternate in the event SyncToy wouldn’t install for some reason (usually this would be on computers which I was going to be reformatting and needed to extract the existing data). However, SyncBackSE (currently $34.95 as of this writing) is extremely configurable with a great amount of flexibility in the backup set. It’s probably the only backup software I’d buy for most entry-level uses.

Cobian is an awesome backup for people who have a desktop computer with a permanently attached backup drive. It’s nearly commercial in its capabilities and interface.

So, I went on a search for a replacement for SyncToy and came across FreeFileSync by way of AlternativeTo.net. It’s a little quirky (but what software isn’t?), but so far seems to be a much more workable replacement for SyncToy than SyncBack was. Some things to consider, if you’re trying to configure a consistent backup routine, make sure to right-click on an object (either a file or directory) and select “Exclude via filter” so that object is not backed up in the future.

So, it looks like my repertoire will consist of FreeFileSync, SyncBack, and Cobian Backup, depending upon the situation at hand.

Outlook Express’s 2GB problem

Monday, July 11th, 2011

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I had a visit with a client today who used Outlook Express and it wouldn’t gather her e-mail. She knew it was there as she could go to the mail service’s web site and see it. She just preferred Outlook Express. I can’t say I blame her as I normally recommend using a program on your computer to read your e-mail (and there are certainly worse programs out there than Outlook Express).

The error which was given was “unknown” with a code of 0x800c0133. Not very informative (like most error codes). After a quick search, I discovered the problem could be caused by a corrupt mailbox file. I went to the location of the data files in an attempt to follow a method of repair I saw online when I discovered the true problem: The “In Box” data file was just under 2GB in size. Knowing Microsoft would have never imagined Outlook Express using a file so large, it’s probably hard-coded to choke when it finds one.

My options were simple. I could delete the data file or figure out a way to shrink it. The compress function in Outlook Express didn’t work. I couldn’t even view the In Box from within Outlook Express. In my case, my client wasn’t concerned about the past e-mails so deletion wasn’t a big deal. However, this won’t work for everyone and I began my search for a free utility to perform the job. Unfortunately, I didn’t find one.

There is a great site out there for anyone who uses or maintains Outlook Express: oehelp.com. From there you can grab utilities to help out with several problems however the ones which could be used to extract important e-mails weren’t free. In the past, I’ve used insideoe.com for assistance. It has a great deal of help, tips, and advice. However, both sites haven’t been updated in a great while. This doesn’t surprise me much as Microsoft basically abandoned support of Outlook Express when Windows Vista was introduced (let’s not forget Windows Mail which came with Vista which was basically replaced with Windows Live Mail a short time later). I imagine all support (whether from Microsoft or someone else) eventually going away with time as Outlook Express has been well and thoroughly replaced.

Now, if you’re looking to move away from what Microsoft offers, I strongly recommend Mozilla Thunderbird. I’ve been using it myself on my PC for quite some time. It’s a very capable e-mail program with many options out of the box and huge quantity of free add-ons. It might seem a little quirky to some, but I’ve found it to be significantly better then the Microsoft offerings (I even game Windows Live Mail a chance for nearly a year before giving up on it).

What security software should I use?

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

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I’m often asked what security software to use. I normally have a stock answer of a free software title such as Microsoft Security Essentials. Some time ago I bookmarked a site which had a review of security software. I looked at it today when I was cleaning out my bookmarks.

Matousec.com performs regular testing of security software to determine how well it defends against malware. It’s testing firewall effectiveness and behavior analysis of the security software. I found the results to be very interesting. In particular, most of the common commercial titles (McAfee, Norton, Panda, etc.) get very poor ratings. Unfortunately, Security Essentials is not listed. I assume this is because it uses the built-in Windows firewall and does not appear to have any behavior sensing abilities.

Normally, I don’t recommend using a software firewall. It’s not because I don’t believe they do any good. It’s because they talk too much (the built-in Windows firewall talks to you rarely). A good firewall is going to ask you if a program is okay to access the internet (for the most part). Unfortunately, most of them do a very poor job of explaining to an expert such as myself what is being blocked so that I can make a decision on whether to continue blocking the program. If it’s hard for me, imagine a less adept user?

I was pleased to see that a free solution was number one on the list.  I’ll be giving the Comodo Internet Security a test drive really soon so I can see for myself how well it works.

Are you protecting your Mac, yet?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

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I’ve spoken previously about the Mac OS being less secure than it has been advertised (and evangelized). Now, it seems, the bad guys are getting more aggressive. This article talks about a feature in Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) which is basically a built-in malware protection. Within a short time, malware authors had already found a way around the protection.

While I still believe that the Mac OS is a smaller target, that doesn’t mean it’s invincible or invisible to attack. Get yourself some protection. Sophos offers a free antivirus for the Mac. It works on any Mac running OS X 10.4 (Tiger) or newer on either Intel or PowerPC platform. I’ve been using it and it was worked well for me. I suggest you do the same. If you have a preferred antivirus software other than this, feel free to use it. I just like to recommend good, free software for any purpose.

Smartphone malware

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

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With the proliferation of smartphones generated in part because they do so much and they are become less expensive to buy and own, the idea of security is becoming more important. The Android platform, for instance, has had some relatively high-profile malware distributed on it. The malware will surreptitiously send texts and calls to premium services costing the owner of the phone money (and racking up a chunk of change for the malware author).

This article at InfoWorld talks about a couple of different malware examples. One of these was even present in software available at the Android Marketplace. I tried to find recent articles on iPhone malware but I didn’t see much. This article specifically mentions “jailbreaking” as making your iPhone more vulnerable to malware. This makes sense as doing so allows you to install software from sources other than the iPhone App Store. It also allows you access to your phone that Apple didn’t intend you to have. This article from a year ago talks about a researcher who created a proof-of-concept app to gather information from your phone. He said that it would be possible to create an app that would look like something you wanted but have this secret ability running in the background. Given how Apple has to filter thousands of app submissions each week to its store, it’s conceivable that malware could get through.

The takeaway from this is to be careful. Anti-malware software is available for your phone like it is for your computer. Only download software from trusted sites and be sure to read reviews before installing (I know I’ve not installed many software titles just because the reviews said they sucked or didn’t act as advertised). Be extra careful if you choose to “jailbreak” your iPhone or gain root access to your Android phone. If you allow your children to play with your phone, be sure to approve any app they wish to install prior to its installation.

I’ve not discussed the current mobile offering from Microsoft. Regardless of its merits, the iPhone and Android represent the lion’s share of smartphones today.