Posts Tagged ‘Software’

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

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

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.

The lure of free software

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Free software can be a wonderful thing.  For just about any task you need to do on your computer, someone has written a program to do it and is willing to allow you to use it without monetary compensation.  Some of these programs are classified as open source which means that not only can you use them, but if you know how, you can reprogram to suit your needs.  What’s not to like about that?

The problem comes when you decide you want something and now it’s time to go looking but you’re not necessarily sure where to go.  Your first inclination may be to bring up your favorite search engine and and look for it.  This can be good, but you may end up with software which has a hidden cost attached to it.

Popular categories such as screensavers and fonts will frequently come with hidden extras.  Often called spyware, these extras will then monitor your every move on your computer, report back to a server somewhere, and display pop-up ads based on what you’re doing.  Install several different such things from various locations and you may have a huge mess of many programs sitting in the background watching what you’re doing slowing it down as a result.  The scary part is that you don’t know what information they’re gathering for their reports.

Protecting yourself from these is better than trying to remove them afterward.  Your anti-virus program (you are running one, right?) will catch some, but not all of them, as you try to download them.  However, you don’t have to wait to download something to have an idea as to how well you can trust it.

Enter SiteAdvisor.  Originally created as an independent plug-in for Internet Explorer and Firefox, it is now owned by McAfee, a maker of security software.  McAfee has still kept it as a free option but they also include it with their security suites.

The plug-in will put a status button on your browser to help you identify potentially bad sites. They use a color coded system to let you know how risky a site is going to be (green for low to no risk, yellow for medium, red for high, and gray for not yet rated).  When you’re on a site, the button will change color appropriately.  If you’re searching for something, SiteAdvisor integrates with popular search engines like Google and Yahoo! to let you know before clicking if one of the sites is a problem.  You’ll have icons with the same color coding scheme next to the links in a search result.

As of this writing, SiteAdvisor is available for Internet Explorer and Firefox.  I’d like to see it available for Safari as well, but Mac users currently have very little to worry about in the realm of spyware or viruses.  If you’re using some other browser such as Opera I would expect you already have an idea how to avoid bad things or you had a well-meaning friend or relative who set it up for you.

So, use SiteAdvisor, keep your security software up to date, and if you want a cool free screensaver that won’t be a problem, I recommend Electric Sheep.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.