Mac Maintenance and HDD updates/upgrade

[Updated 06-26-2011]

I just spent a few days doing lots of maintenance on a few Mac’s.
Cleaning up, optimizing and replacing one HDD for a new larger one.
So I thought I’d share what I do with my Mac’s to keep them running happy and having my data safe should there be problems to those of you ‘Mac-ites’ out there.
1st. Let’s clean up.
I install and use Onyx on all my Macs and those I maintain. It makes maintenance a BREEZE.
With Onyx you can do just about everything you need to do on a regular basis to keep clutter down and errors away.
Get it here.

Check out the AppCleaner application to completely remove applications – often installs put files into many other directories than just the applications folder! A great tool for removing leftover ‘gunk’.

I was going to go into some of the other steps I do such as removing unnecessary start-up items and removing unused apps but it looks like the folks at LifeHacker.com have put together a very good article on just that.
So to save the time of me just re-stating what Gina Trapani, founder of LifeHacker, has already said just go here.
The folks at Tested.com also have a good in depth article on how to manually do nearly everything you can do in Onyx. But I find Onyx to be fantastic.
As always make sure you have a good backup before you start messing with system settings!

2nd. Let’s clone/copy.

For backups most know I believe in Images(Clones), alone with periodic ‘file backups’. That way I’m protected against full drive failures/loses AND stupidity – accidentally erasing or overwriting files. 🙂
Imaging or cloning is the procedure by which you create a backup that is identical to a bootable system either to another internal or external drive. This is the ultimate backup! Should your drive fail you can just ‘pop in’ your cloned drive or ‘restore’ that clone to a new drive and your are up and running.
Good description here

Now to backing up and/or updating of a hard drive. By cloning the drive to a new (or back up one) you are creating an exact bootable copy of the original.

This is actually a very simple process that can be done without any 3rd party software on OSX!
I’ll explain how to do that in a moment, but there are some 3rd party tools that make it a little easier for the novice

Whether you are installing a brand new larger hard rive like I just did or making a clone to and external drive the directions are the same. [except of course if it is just a back up clone you won’t be ‘changing the start up disk’]

For the two Easiest ways to Clone (and also backup – remember images rule!):
Use SuperDuper Mac Drive Cloner. Get it here,
The application is freeware/shareware. Meaning to use the clone function it’s free but to use the advance scheduling features you will have to purchase a license. The call is yours.
I have always found it very worthwhile to own and support great utility software.

Or use Carbon Copy Cloner. Get that here. Read about it here. The latest version is fantastic. It’s now my go to OS X disk tool.

Now the no 3rd party software route.
You can do as I have done many times use OS X’s own clone/restore utility!

You insert the MacOS X 10.x install disk, boot from it, select Disk Utility from the Start menu, and choose the volume of the new Mac.
Then use the Restore tab, drag and drop the old drive as the source, and the new one as the target, and press the button.
Et voila!
After copying, just make sure that your new hdd (the clone) is set to be the start up disk.

You can then boot the new Mac with an exact clone of the old one.

Here’s how to use Disk Utility to clone and backup your hard drive in a little more detail using an install disk:
* Fire the Mac OS X disk that came along with your Mac.
To do this, insert the CD or DVD into your Mac, and hold down the C key while your Mac restarts.

[if that doesn’t work try these options:
# Restart your computer and immediately press the Option key. Icons for all available startup volumes will appear. Click the one you want to boot from, and then click the right arrow button to complete the startup process.
# Restart your computer and immediately press Cmd-Option-Shift-Delete. You must press all the keys at once. The computer will start to boot from the CD or DVD drive. If there isn’t a bootable disc inside the drive when you begin the reboot, the computer will attempt to boot from another partition or drive. ]

* Go ahead select your language. Don’t worry: You’re not installing Mac OS X again – this is just what you have to do to get to Disk Utility. When the menu bar appears, select Disk Utility from the Utilities menu.
* When Disk Utility opens, you’ll want to select your source. This is the hard drive you want to clone and/or backup. After you have a source, select the Destination. This is the hard drive you want to save the backup image to. * Click Restore and you’ll end up with a perfect copy of your hard drive.


Restart your computer and you’re good to go!

That’s it……

For backups there is also the included Time Machine application that ships with the latest versions of OS X. It is much improved from previous versions. It allows the user to restore the whole system, multiple files, or a single file. It works within iWork, iLife, and several other compatible programs, making it possible to restore individual objects (e.g.: photos, contacts, calendar events) without leaving the application. Time Machine is a backup utility, not an archival utility, it is not intended as offline storage. Time Machine captures the most recent state of your data on your disk. As snapshots age, they are prioritized progressively lower compared to your more recent ones.

Carbon Copy Cloner, SuperDuper and Time Machine are complimentary. Think of SuperDuper or CCC as your backup against catastrophe (drive-failure or theft) while your TM volume is a hedge against stupidity (deleting/overwriting important files, contacts, etc.).

One last utility that I’d like to mention is AppleJack.

AppleJack is a user friendly troubleshooting assistant for Mac OS X. With AppleJack you can troubleshoot a computer even if you can’t load the GUI, or don’t have a startup CD handy. AppleJack runs in Single User Mode and is menu-based for ease of use. Their main page is here.

The AppleJack download is here.

Peace and happy computing…..

Improving productivity and fun with browser add-ons and scripts

I spend all day working online and managing information systems.
I was asked again how come I don’t have the same ‘bad experiences’ others do when browsing the internet. Why I don’t get things like getting ‘drive by Trojans’, bogus Anti-virus pop-ups, and obtrusive music or videos that play no matter what.
I mentioned that besides the obvious of keeping all of my systems AND applications(browsers, Acrobat etc.)up to date with the latest security patches, always making sure I have the latest Anti-Virus/anti-spyware updates and not going places I know I shouldn’t or clicking on suspicious links, the most likely reason beyond that is the web browser and add-ons I use that make my browsing more productive and fun. I also spend a great deal of time furthering my education, catching up with friends and family and just plane wasting what little free time I may have being entertained online.
I have put together many tools and configuration additions that make all of the things I do with my systems way simpler and easier.
I hope these may help some of you be more productive and provide for a more pleasurable internet experience.
I work with lot’s of different people with varied technical skill sets from absolute newbie’s all the way to the guys with lot’s of CC’s and MS’s after their names, and when they see how much I can ‘just do’ from the browser they are often just amazed.
I am a believer in ‘Kaizen’. Why not try to do everything better if you can. Work, play, rest, worship and just plain life in general. So I hope some will take the time and try and use some of these tools and tips and have some more fun and a more pleasant and rewarding internet experience.
First off I must start off with the ‘machine’ with which I connect to the internet with 90+% of the time.
That is Mozilla’s Firefox browser.
I use Firefox not because it is not any more secure than IE (compared to IE8 it is definitely not, but that is news for another post.), Safari, Chrome or Opera, but I use it because the ‘browser is the machine or portal’ that gets you to all of the ‘stuff out there’ and Firefox has ALL these custom tools and add-ons available to make just about everything I do easier, faster, funner and more efficient.
I use IE only when absolutely needed; usually with custom built applications that require some of IE’s more integrated Windows ‘hooks’. I actually like the way Internet Explorer renders pages better than Firefox. But the lack of add-ons stop me from using it.
Google’s Chrome is a fast simple browser but all of the extensions for Firefox have not been ported yet. AND I really dislike how the ‘Google updater’ is continuously running and connected to Google. As much as I like lots of things Google, especially Gmail and Google Docs, I try to restrict some of the information they are gathering on me.
[While I do love my Gmail, Google is getting more like big digital brother than imagined.]
I used to recommend the Google Toolbar for Firefox and IE but I have now removed it from ALL of my machines. I now recommend that everyone do the same. Seems Google is being even more sneaky and still tracking you even when you disable ‘sending of usage statistics’! I realize it is for ‘marketing’ – to provide you with targeted adds. People forget Google is in the ADVERTISING business; and they are very profitable at it. But I just don’t need that much data collected on me. Here is one article describing the issue. And here is another.]

I was recently asked about these tools and items so I just updated the links and information and added a few items. I hope you all enjoy.
Here are the Firefox Extensions I use:

After the Deadline
After the Deadline checks spelling, misused words, style, and grammar using artificial intelligence and natural language processing.
Now you can use it in your browser. Write better blog comments, tweet with correct grammar, and compose professional messages.

Better Gmail 2:
Developed by the founder of Lifehacker.com Better Gmail 2 compiles the best Greasemonkey user scripts for Gmail into a single package. Adds useful extra features to Gmail, like hierarchical labels, an unread message icon on your browser tab, file attachment icons, and more.

BetterPrivacy
Super-Cookie Safeguard (protects from LSO Flash Objects, DOM Storage Objects).

DownloadHelper:
I use this A LOT. Just surf the Web as you are used to, when DownloadHelper detects it can do something for you, the icon gets animated and a menu allows you to download files by simply clicking an item. It is also possible to capture all the images from a gallery in a single operation.

Adblock Plus:
Ever been annoyed by all those ads and banners on the internet that often take longer to download than everything else on the page? Install Adblock Plus now and get rid of them.

FaviconizeTab:
Alows you to right click on a tab and ‘Faviconize’ it.

FireFTP:
FireFTP is a free, secure, cross-platform FTP client for Mozilla Firefox which provides easy and intuitive access to FTP servers.

gui:conif:
Adds a graphical interface for Firefox about:config tweaking. Useful for the non-geek crowd.

Ghostery:
Ghostery allows you to detect trackers on the sites you visit, learn more about the companies behind them, and control their visibility into your online behavior.

Firesheep:
A Firefox extension that demonstrates HTTP session hijacking attacks. Nice to know if someone is ‘sniffing’ your wireless browsing!

IE Tab  2
Allows you to use IE to display web pages in a tab within FireFox. This updated version includes support for FireFox 3.6 and will continue to be updated with new features and enhancements.

MultirowBookmarksToolbar:
Multi Row Bookmarks Toolbar.

PDF Download:
Use PDF Download to do whatever you like with PDF files on the Web. Regain control and eliminate browser problems, view PDFs directly in Firefox as HTML, and use the all-new Web-to-PDF toolbar to save and share Web pages as high-quality PDF files.

Perspectives:
Perspectives is a new approach to help clients securely identify Internet servers in order to avoid "man-in-the-middle" attacks.

RightToClick:
Defeats a wide varity of javascript annoyances like disabled right click (contextmenu) , disabled text selection, disabled drag&drop and many more.
Enables right-click, text selection, context-menu, drag&drop and much more where it is disabled by Javascript.
Puts little ‘Arrow’ in bottom corner allowing you to enable, then highlight and right-click and/or copy text!

StopAutoplay:
Disable the autoplay of the embedded music and movies. User action (clicking on the play arrow) is then required to hear or see ‘active content’. Some people don’t like this because the want to click on a YouTube link and have it play right away. I DON’T. Being the control freak I am I want things to play ONLY when I choose them to. I would rather go to the page and use DownloadHelper add-on mentioned above, to download the file and view it with out all the buffering and such. Most web videos are ‘Flash’ video format, and can be played back via a freeware flash player like the one from Martijn de Visser his site is here and the actual player download is here.
I love this one! Stops that lousy music or videos from playing automatically playing on certain sites.

TinEye Reverse Image Search:
TinEye is a reverse image search engine. It finds out where an image came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or if there is a higher resolution version.

User Agent Switcher:
The User Agent Switcher extension adds a menu and a toolbar button to switch the user agent of a browser. The extension is available for Firefox and will run on any platform that this browser supports including Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Helpful for sites that require specific browsers and versions.

Download Context Menu:
Shows the Explorer context (right click) menu of downloaded files in the Downloads list.

Open Bookmarks in New Tab
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/13784

Vacuum Places:
Defragments your Firefox "Places" database (history/bookmarks). This greatly reduces the lag while typing in the address bar and the start-up time.

BetterPrivacy:
Better Privacy serves to protect against not delete-able long-term cookies, a new generation of ‘Super-Cookie’, which silently conquered the internet.

VTzilla:
VTzilla is a Mozilla Firefox browser plugin that simplifies the process of scanning Internet resources with VirusTotal. It allows you to download files directly with VirusTotal’s web application prior to storing them in your PC. Moreover, it will not only scan files, but also URLs.

WiseStamp:
WiseStamp Email Apps enable users to bring social functionality in every email they send.

Greasemonkey:
Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension that allows you to customize the way webpages look and functions by adding additional scripts.
Hundreds of scripts are already available for free. And if you’re the tinkerer sort, you can also write your own.

[ultimate greasemonkey repository – if there is a script it is here:http://userscripts.org/ ]

Greasmonkey scripts I use. You can visit the authors pages to see more details:
Userscripts Updater:
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/26062
YouTube HD Ultimate:
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/31864
Gmail Favicon Alerts 3:
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/24430
YouTube Enhancer:
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/33042
Google Maps Zoom:
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/7840
expertsExchange:
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/37941
and
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/37941
and
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/59258

Remove Facebook Ads:
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/46560

Greasemonkey scripts I don’t use but have heard good things about:
I don’t go on Facebook much but if I were a real ‘facebooker’ I would use this one too:
UnFuck Facebook:
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/11992

Another one I don’t use but for people who would like to have ‘folders’ in Gmail:
Folders4Gmail:
http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/8810

Now to keep all tidy consistant in all places.
I use MS SyncToy to synchronize my Mozilla Firefox profiles from machine to machine too:
http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID;=c26efa36-98e0-4ee9-a7c5-98d0592d8c52

Pretty good Tutorial:
http://www.pchell.com/support/synctoy.shtml

Location of your Firefox profiles for synching:
Windows/Mac/Linux:
http://support.mozilla.com/en-US/kb/Profiles#How_to_find_your_profile

Lastly even more geeky.
I have a portable version of Firefox on most of my usb flash drives so I can work on machines that might have had their browsers ‘compromised’ by maleware and virii.
To get more information on ‘Portable Firefox’go here:
http://portableapps.com/apps/internet/firefox_portable
Here the more technically savvy will find out how to install, configure and update your portable edition.

Simple Performance Tips

I am asked a few times a week at minimum “how can I speed up my system?” by friends, family and colleagues alike. Here are some very simple performance tips I perform on nearly all Windows systems I work with.

Before starting any system modifications please make sure you have a recent backup. Follow my previous posts here and here on backups and images. Run Windows update and update your Antivirus/Antispyware apps and other applications like Adobe Reader [launch the app, go to Help on the menu bar and go down to ‘Check For Updates’ and run and install.] Also update Adobe flash by opening your browser and going to Adobe’s site and getting the latest version. PDF and Flash are the most common vector for malicious code.

BE CAREFUL WHEN INSTALLING ADOBE PRODUCTS!!! They like to include ‘SHITWARE’, third party applications YOU DON’T NEED OR WANT’, like McAfee scanner or other ‘toolbars. Make sure to ‘uncheck’ any options to download AND install these when updating Adobe (or any others for that matter) applications. Be careful they are tricky and put other toolbar installers in the application updates – so before ‘just clicking’ ok/next make sure NOT to install any toolbars or other applications.

The run an Anti-virus and Anti-spyware scans to make sure your system is clean.

OK now for the meat:

First go to Mike Lin’s home page and get his great little ‘startup’ application.

http://mlin.net/StartupCPL.shtml

Download the standalone application here.
It’s in a zip file.

Extract and save somewhere like ‘My Documents’ or your desktop.
Then just double click to launch it. If you are on Windows Vista or Windows 7 right-click and run as administrator.

4_run_as_administrator

You will then be shown all the different start up parameters for your system and the applications which are scheduled to start at various events – login, machine startup, user login etc. Simply click on an item to highlight it, right click and choose and option.

StartupCPL

Using

The dialog contains six to seven tabs, depending on your system configuration. Each tab represents one place where a program can be registered to run at system startup. These include:

    * Startup (user) – the current user’s Startup folder in the Start Menu.
    * Startup (common) – the common (all users) Startup folder in the Start Menu.
    * HKLM / Run – the Run registry key located in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE. These apply for all users.
    * HKCU / Run – the Run registry key located in HKEY_CURRENT_USER. These apply for the current user only.
    * Services – system services that are started before the user logs in. This appears only in Win9x; on NT/2000/XP, use the Services control panel, or the Services item in Computer Management.
    * Run Once – started once and once only at the next system startup.
    * Deleted – programs go to the Deleted tab when you remove them from another location. They will not run at system startup, but will merely be stored should you ever want to use them again. If you delete an item from the Deleted tab, it is removed permanently.

Each page contains a list of the programs registered at that location. Use the checkbox to enable or disable individual items. Additional operations are available by right-clicking an item. You can select multiple items using the Shift and Control keys. Options include:

    * New… – create a new entry. You can also drag & drop files from My Computer or Explorer.
    * Edit… – edit an existing entry.
    * Delete – delete the currently selected entry.
    * Disable / Enable – disable or enable the selected entry. A disabled program will appear in the list with a special icon, and will not run at system startup. You can also use the checkbox next to an item to enable or disable it.
    * Run Now – executes the program now.
    * Send To – moves the entry from the current location to another.

Press F5 to refresh the list at any time.

Be careful to NOT remove items critical to Windows and your Antivirus/Antispyware applications. Things that should stay are things like ‘ctfmon.exe (an office application), and your sound and /or track pad drivers.
Please note:
Before you disable or delete any listed startup items ‘Google’ the exact ‘exe’ file located in the path and FIND OUT WHAT IT IS AND DOES FIRST!

Here is and example of what I mean.

I usually find dozens of items that do NOT need to be starting at startup and/or login. Things like Adobe Acrobat ‘speed loader’, Adobe Updater, Google Updated, QuickTime, Messenger, Yahoo Toolbar, HP Image Center apps etc.

Another source of system hogging apps at startup are printers. HP (and nearly all software nowadays) is notorious for loading as many as a dozen ‘helper’ applications that you don’t need to run at start up. Things for updates, scanner updates, help desks, online help files and the like. All these items put a strain on system resources.

I find I can often dramatically increase the performance of most peoples machines by stopping all this ‘crapware’ from loading in the first place.

Once you have unchecked or deleted all the crapware from loading at startup restart your machine to make sure all works. If something is amok you can start in SafeMode (hold F8 before Windows starts) and run the app again and recheck or undelete any items as needed. If all is working time for next step.

Next item is clearing out temporary files. I use CCleaner. In fact I run this application EVERYTIME I close any browser, before I log off or shut down!

Here is the line for the application. Download, install, run and choose  ‘Run Cleaner’.

The first time this is run many people are stunned by the size and amount of files it cleans out.

Then it’s time to do a ‘super defrag’ on your system.

I like Defraggler a lot.

Get it here. Since this is an intense defragmenter – it makes files ‘contiguous’ on the disk, it can take a long while the first time it is run. Sometimes all night! But definitely run this.

Please read my other posts on resolving Windows problems too.

I you have a Mac check out this article here.

Well that is all for now have a save fun computing experience.

Speed Up Windows 7 with ReadyBoost and Removable Drives

When your PC and especially a netbook goes low on memory (RAM), it is bound to slow down. It does try to get that extra memory from the hard disk, but that hardly enhances the overall performance.
Most netbooks ship with 1Gb of Ram, and many older netbooks shipped with even less.  Even if you want to add more ram, often they can only be upgraded to a max of 2GB.  With ReadyBoost in Windows 7, it’s easy to boost your system’s performance with flash memory.  If your netbook has an SD card slot, you can insert a memory card into it and just leave it there to always boost your netbook’s memory; otherwise, you can use a standard USB flash drive the same way. Also, you can use ReadyBoost on any desktop or laptop with Windows Vista or Windows 7; ones with limited memory will see the most performance increase from using it.

ReadyBoost is a feature in Windows which helps it make use of the flash memory of an external USB flash drive when it needs it. It can speed up PC when RAM goes over limit, and also works with multiple devices in Windows 7.  You may even notice better battery life when multitasking with ReadyBoost, as it lets you use your hard drive less.

So how much should you use? Microsoft recommends, “a 1:1 ratio of Flash to system memory at the low end and as high as 2.5:1 flash to system memory.” So if you have 4GB of RAM, you should pair it with at least a 4GB USB drive, but a 16GB USB stick would be overkill.

Here’s a step by step process to use this feature.

Insert an SD card into your card reader, or connect a USB flash drive to a USB port on your computer.  Windows should automatically ( via AutoPlay) see if your flash memory is ReadyBoost capable, and if so, you can directly choose to speed up your computer with ReadyBoost.

sshot98

If you don’t see that as an option, you may still be in luck.
Open Windows Explorer or My Computer and try configuring ReadyBoost by right-clicking the device in Windows Explorer, clicking Properties, and then clicking the ReadyBoost tab. The only configuration option is to configure the space reserved for the cache.

sshot1013

Click Ok, and Windows will setup ReadyBoost and start using it to speed up your computer.  It will automatically use ReadyBoost whenever the card is connected to the computer.

You should choose at least 256MB. But according to Microsoft, for Windows 7 your flash drive should have at least 1 GB free space. For best results you should use flash drive with double the amount of RAM space available in your computer.

You can also click on the option “Dedicate this device to Readyboost”. This option will use maximum available space on the external media for Readyboost process.

If you need to remove your drive to use elsewhere, simply eject as normal. Windows will inform you that the drive is currently being used.  Make sure you have closed any programs or files you had open from the drive, and then press Continue to stop ReadyBoost and eject your drive.

If you remove the drive without ejecting it, the ReadyBoost file may still remain on the drive.  You can delete this to save space on the drive, and the cache will be recreated when you use ReadyBoost next time.

Worried about someone pulling out your USB stick and walking away with the files you’ve been working on for months? Don’t be. Information on ReadyBoost drives or disks is safe from casual hackers. All files on removable drives are encrypted with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) 128.  In any case, while ReadyBoost stores data and programs as files, and not as raw data, you can’t access these files as if the USB stick was a normal drive.

Here is a short video from MS

Something to consider;

Unfortunately, not all SD and CF cards, or even USB flash drives, work with ReadyBoost. While some storage media advertise that they’re “enhanced for Windows ReadyBoost,” they may not actually be ReadyBoost worthy.

Here is a good list from NewEgg. One of my favorite technology sources.

If you have a netbook or laptop this can do a lot for your performance. I hope this helps.

Microsoft FixIt Center – diagnostics tools for most versions of Windows

I haven’t used this yet so I can’t give my personal recommendation only pass on the information I received and the reveiws that I have read. But this does look like it should be a great help to users who are not that technically savy or who don’t have ready access to a techno geek.

While a pretty good amount of diagnostics are built into Windows 7, the free Fix it Center aims to expand on these and also bring similar capabilities to Windows XP and Windows Vista.

The service has around 300 fixes built-in, Microsoft has said it can also be useful even if it can’t solve an issue on its own by helping you identify the issue correctly so you can seek out those answers more effectively.

You can use any computer with Internet connection to get started with Fix it Center. Simply download the Fix it Center client and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the setup. You can install Fix it Center client on as many PCs you like.

You can, if you wish sign up for Fix it Center Online during setup so you can manage all your computers from a single location on the Internet yet can view solutions specific for each PC. [This is Microsoft’s push into the SMB market.]

Loads of common errors can be fixed — from broken Aero transparency to network adapter glitches to Windows Media Player library and DVD issues. There’s even a system maintenance option which checks for broken shortcuts, date and time problems, disk volume errors, and more!
 
The site is HERE.
 
Fix it Center can be installed on:

* Windows XP SP3
* Windows XP Pro (64-bit) SP2
* Windows Vista
* Windows 7
* Windows Server 2003 SP2
* Windows Server 2008
* Windows Server 2008 R2

Increase the performance of your Windows 7 netbook (or other Win7 PC)

I had a post about this previously but the HowToGeek just put up a simpler one.
If you are someone who has a Windows 7 Netbook or other Windows 7 system with limited RAM this is a great way to add some real performance to your system.
Again Netbooks will see the most dramatic increase in performance and even some batter life increases!
Check out the HowToGeek article HERE.

More on Freeware that I use

I keep getting asked about what applications I would ‘install on a new system’ or what apps to I use for this or that and how can I find them. So I put together a list of  most of them I use again. I already have posted on my affection for Firefox used with add-ons and extension. So I’ll skip that here. This list is by no means complete I am sure there are many things I left off or that you can add.

Before I get to the tools and links;
Remember when installing any application to TAKE YOUR TIME AS YOU CLICK THROUGH THE SETUP PROCESS!!
And do NOT agree to install/add anything else other than the actual software you are planning on installing.
The same care should also be taken when applying application or ‘security updates’
Many Freeware applications contain an added ‘toolbar’ or ‘update checker’ NEITHER OF WHICH YOU NEED OR WANT. Make sure to ‘uncheck’ any options for such crap.
[Where do they get the nerve to sneak tool bars onto unsuspecting Users systems in the guise of updating their applications/runtimes/etc ?
And, why are they allowed to behave like the criminals who install malware on unsuspecting Victims’ systems ? ]

I understand that some of the developers are trying to get paid for their services and they deserve it, but to have that ‘check/option’ clicked by default is downright deceptive. If I feel an application is worth paying for I will donate directly to the developer, and I often do. In fact many applications on my personal use list were originally ‘purchase’ type applications that I bought and are now freeware!
This also occurs for ‘SECURITY UPDATES’ and upgrades too.
For example:
A notice appears on your PC about an update for Adobe Flash Player. Adobe, in their infinite wisdom, doesn’t inform Users why this update has come out.
The User, thinking that it improves the Flash Player, hurries to install it, clicking quickly through the installation pages.
When the update is done, guess what ? There’s another toolbar installed to Internet Explorer !!!
In the US, it will likely be either a Yahoo or Google tool bar.
Lord knows which tool bar Users in other regions of the world will find installed.
Or, there’s an update to Sun Java. Again, there’s no explanation about why there’s an update. Once more, the beaten down weary from constant updating User doesn’t notice that Sun is also offering a tool bar, which in the US is probably the MSN or Bing tool bar. European Users will likely have other unwanted tool bars stuffed on to their systems.
So be careful no matter what applications you install whether purchased or freeware.

Also note that ‘freeware’ doesn’t always mean no support. Many freeware applications have a very active ‘developer community’ and support forums.

There is no particular order to how I listed these applications and tools, I just started going through my applications install folder. Use any and or all of these at your own risk. They are ‘freeware’ and I make NO warrantees or guarantees to their safety or effectiveness for you. I have had no issues with any of these but you may. So have a complete system back up available incase something ‘bad’ happens. [see my posts on backups and images]
So here you go:

Log Me In
Access and back up your home or work computer from anywhere with an Internet connection. Even access your desktop from your Smartphone or iPhone or the dash of your Ford truck. It’s fast, easy and secure.:
https://secure.logmein.com/US/home.aspx

Format Factory a multifunctional media converter:
http://www.formatoz.com/

Flv Player is a tool to play Flash (.FLV) video files:
http://www.martijndevisser.com/blog/flv-player/

Firefox with extensions and greasemonkey
See my previous posts:
http://mikemartinezonline.com/blog/2010/01/16/improving-productivity-and-fun-with-browser-add-ons-and-scripts/

Driver Max let’s you back up and restore the drivers installed on your computer:
http://www.innovative-sol.com/drivermax/

Handbrake is an open-source program designed to convert MPEG video (including DVD-Video) into an MPEG-4 video file in MPEG-4 Part 14 (.mp4) or Matroska (.mkv) containers.
http://handbrake.fr/

Spybot Search & Destroy
Don’t confuse this application with other that are trading on the ‘Spybot’ name and are in
and of themselves ACTUALLY spyware. The one and only original FREEWARE application is here:
http://www.safer-networking.org/en/ownmirrors3/index.html

Microsoft Security Essentials
http://www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/

CCleaner is a freeware system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. Additionally it contains a fully featured registry cleaner.
http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/download/slim

LookInMyPC is a free utility that allows users to generate complete and comprehensive profiles, audits, and diagnostic reports on their computers.
http://www.lookinmypc.com/download.htm

DVD Shrink is a versatile freeware tool for fitting a DVD-Video disc on a single DVD-R:
http://www.afterdawn.com/software/video_software/dvd_rippers/dvd_shrink.cfm

DVD Decrypter is a highly versatile VOB-ripping utility.
http://www.freewarefiles.com/DVD-Decrypter_program_15586.html

Dvdflick is a simple but at the same time powerful DVD Authoring tool. It can take a number of video files stored on your computer and turn them into a DVD that will play back on your DVD player, Media Center or Home Cinema Set. You can add additional custom audio tracks, subtitles as well as a menu for easier navigation.
http://www.dvdflick.net/

Keepass is an open source password manager. Passwords can be stored in highly-encrypted databases, which can be unlocked with one master password or key file.
http://keepass.info/

µTorrent is a lightweight and efficient BitTorrent client for Windows or Mac with many features.
http://www.utorrent.com/

Media Monkey (free & Pro) Free music manager and jukebox for large collections of CDs, MP3s and other audio files. It rips CDs, converts audio formats, edits tags, renames files, creates playlists, etc.
http://www.mediamonkey.com/

Tuxguitar (opens Guitar taps pro too)is an opensource multitrack tablature editor. You can read and write Guitar  Pro files using TuxGuitar.
http://tuxguitar.he
rac.com.ar/

Defraggler can defragment individual files, groups of files in a folder, or free space on any FAT32, NTFS, exFAT, RAID partition. Defraggler can defragment the master file table when needed. It also displays the location of these files on a map of the partition.
http://www.piriform.com/defraggler/download/slim

Recuva is a freeware Windows utility to restore files that have been accidentally deleted from your computer. This includes files emptied from the Recycle bin as well as images and other files that have been deleted by user error from digital camera memory cards or MP3 players. It will even bring back files that have been deleted by bugs, crashes and viruses.:
http://www.piriform.com/recuva/download/slim

Speccy is an advanced freeware system information tool for personal computer.
http://www.piriform.com/media/10110/spsetup100.zip

Virtual Box is a powerful x86 and AMD64/Intel64 virtualization product for enterprise as well as home use
http://www.virtualbox.org/

GIMP (the GNU  Image Manipulation Program) is a free software raster graphics editor. [think Photoshop without the $600.00 price tag]
http://www.gimp.org/

OpenOffice.org (OO.o or OOo), commonly known as OpenOffice, is an open source software application suite.
http://www.openoffice.org/

VLC Media Player is a cross-platform open-source multimedia framework, player and server. VLC  media player is a highly portable multimedia player and multimedia framework capable of reading most audio and video formats (MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, DivX, MPEG-1, mp3, ogg, aac …) as well as DVDs, Audio CDs VCDs, and various streaming protocols.:
http://www.videolan.org/vlc/

k-lite Mega codec package allows you to play almost every movie file that you can find on the Internet.
http://www.free-codecs.com/download/K_lite_codec_pack.htm

Mozbackup is a simple utility for creating backups of Mozilla Firefox.
http://mozbackup.jasnapaka.com/

Magicdisk is a utility designed for creating and managing ‘virtual’ CD drives and CD/DVD discs.
http://www.magiciso.com/tutorials/miso-magicdisc-overview.htm

GPVR is a mature, robust, full-featured Personal Video Recorder (PVR) or Media Center which runs on Microsoft Windows. It’s main function is scheduling tv recording and watching live tv.(tv card necessary)
http://www.gbpvr.com/

7-zip is an open source file archiver and can read and write to several other archive formats.
http://www.7-zip.org/

ImageBurn is a lightweight CD / DVD / HD DVD / Blu-ray burning application that everyone should have in their toolkit!
http://www.imgburn.com/

Funduc Search & Replace is a fast, easy to use grep utility for search and  replace in multiple files, directories and archives.
http://www.funduc.com/search_replace.htm

UnLocker is a tool that can trace and "unlock" the locking protection commonly used in system files.Its main use is to terminate the processes that are using a certain file, or force the processes to stop using the file, so the user can safely delete, rename or move the file.
http://ccollomb.free.fr/unlocker/

WhoLockMe is a Windows Explorer extension that will help you identify which programs and/or process have locks on your files.
http://www.dr-hoiby.com/WhoLockMe/

Open DNS  makes networks in homes, schools and businesses safer, faster, smarter and more reliable through Web content filtering and navigation services.
http://www.opendns.com/

Rname It
Another great Win95/98/NT app that renames multiple files. Files can easily be organized and grouped by a new common prefix and/or padded with a unique numerical or alphabetical value for sorting purposes. Features Real Time Preview and Full (Final) Preview for complicated renaming procedures.:
ftp://ftp.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/local/jk.collection/win/rname-it.zip

Sysinternals Suite
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb842062.aspx

CombiMovie is freeware which can combine two or more mpg/mpeg files into a single continuous mpg file. It works very fast, almost as fast as copying the files itself! Suitable for digital camera or internet movies.:
http://www.bobyte.com/CombiMovie/CombiMovie.asp

Look@Lan is an advanced network monitor that allows you to monitor your net in few clicks.
Extremely easy to use and very fast in discovering your network’s active nodes. Full of relevant features such as: auto-detect of network configuration, monitoring, reporting, trapping, statistics and graphs, network tree view, network log, proof single node scan, os detection.:
http://majorgeeks.com/downloadget.php?id=3365&file;=9&evp;=243ad7f7dbd42ca50abe8bf849b4423b

KarenWare Tools
Directory Print:
http://www.karenware.com/powertools/ptdirprn.asp
 
Hasher:
http://www.karenware.com/powertools/pthasher.asp

TightVNC  is a cross-platform open source remote desktop software application that uses and extends VNC ‘s RFB protocol to control another computer’s screen remotely.:
http://www.tightvnc.com/download.php

UltraVNC is an open source and free application for the Microsoft Windows operating system that uses the VNC protocol to control another computer’s screen :
http://www.uvnc.com/download

OsX VNC server is protocol lets you connect to and control another computer.:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/osxvnc/
 
OsX VNC Client:
http://sourceforge.net/projects/cotvnc/

PDF-XChange Viewer is a free alternative to Adobe Acrobat Reader–allows users to View Adobe compatible PDF files:
http://www.docu-track.com/product/pdf-xchange-viewer

Notepad++ Opensource notepad on steroids:
http://notepad-plus.sourceforge.net/uk/about.php
Appinstall:
http://superb-west.dl.sourceforge.net/sourcef
orge/notepad-plus/npp.5.4.2.Installer.exe

Onyx (Mac)is a multifunction utility for Mac OS X. It allows you to verify the Startup Disk and the structure of its System files, to run misc tasks of system maintenance:
[Looks like Apple swallowed this project]:
http://www.apple.com/downloads/macosx/system_disk_utilities/onyx.html

CutePDF Writer
Create professional quality PDF files from almost any printable document. FREE for personal, commercial, gov or edu use! No watermarks! No popup Web ads! Now supports 64-bit Windows.
http://www.cutepdf.com/download/CuteWriter.exe

Windows 7 ‘God Mode’

This is a really cool hack.
It seems to work in all versions of Windows 7.

“GodMode” feature lets users access all of the operating system’s control panels from within a single folder.

By creating a new folder in Windows 7 and renaming it with a certain text string at the end, users are able to have a single place to do everything from changing the look of the mouse pointer to making a new hard-drive partition.

To enter “GodMode,” one need only create a new folder (anywhere, but desktop makes most sense) and then rename the folder to the following [for assured results copy this – from the ‘G’ to the last’}’ ]:

GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

Once that is done, the folder’s icon will change to resemble a control panel and will contain dozens of control options. It is a handy way to get to all kinds of controls.

This also works in Windows Vista 32bit too but not Vista 64bit.

Another Great Remote Support Tool

I have been using premium and free versions of LogMeIn for years and have been very happy with their products and services.

I looks like they are adding another great tool calle LogMeIn Express.
[sorry for now only WinXP and above – no Mac yet]

LogMeIn Express is a screensharing tool from the makers of the popular remote-desktop software, LogMeIn. With this new offering, sharing your desktop is as simple as sending your friend or associate a URL.

Only the person doing the screensharing needs to download anything. The sharer only requires a small application from LogMeIn, the viewer only needs to visit the LogMeIn Express site and plug in the number that the sharer has given them.

Once they plug in the number you’ll approve them for viewing and—if you desire—remote control. You can send them files, chat with them via the LogMeIn Express control panel, pause the screencasting, disconnect individual users, or shut down the screen sharing all together.
The connection is secured using 256-bit SSL encryption and you can share with up to 100 users.
The Logmein Express page:
https://secure.logmein.com/US/products/express/Default.aspx
More info:
http://www.downloadsquad.com/2009/12/14/logmein-express-offers-simple-screen-sharing-solution/

Have fun and be productive.

Anti Virus/Anti Spyware Suite Shootout Results

Here are the results of a very well done study on the effectiveness of current anti-virus/anti-spyware suites.
Review of the review here.
The top of the current list is Nortons latest suite.
They did not test Microsoft’s new/updated foray into this arena – their Freeware solution;
Microsof Security Essentials.
As I have mentioned previously I have been a fan of Norton for a while. They have done a good job of reducing the memory and process footprint compared to previous editions.
I am however very impressed with Microsoft’s Security Essentials application.
I recently had a collegue who’s systems was infected and Norton AND Trend Micro could not effect a solution.
But Security Essentials DID!
I think it is a good free solution and worth checking out.
Keep safe out there.