Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Reboot

As I'm running low on political steam (for now), and because it's been a while since I've posted (and I've found newer and better stuff), here's my picks for free software to run on your computers to make them not suck.

First, for those of you who are new, I often type out my political wisdom/ravings while ensconced in my half-cubicle at work doing Internet tech support (like right now). I grew up on computers (Started with an Apple II plus at age 7), have worked in two computer stores and 3 stints with RadioShack (2 corporate, 1 franchise). And for someone with no formal training, I can make my old, underpowered pieces of shit work magnicifently.

And for those of you that aren't sure you can trust me, almost everything I list I have installed on my computers. And my links will take you to reliable sources (mostly And if you doubt me still, remember: I want you to read me (and worship and obey (and get me a date)), so killing your computers would defeat one of my most egomaniacal reasons for blogging.

(necessary CYA disclaimer: because every computer has some unique configuration issues, you can experience problems when adding new software. I have had isolated problems on individual systems with a few of the security programs. That's why Windows has system restore and add/remove programs (programs and features in Vista), although I have a better uninstaller myself.

Non-Tinfoil Hat Security

To begin, there are three important things you need to protect your computers from most threats: an antivirus, an anti-spyware, and a firewall. For clarification, these are the programs most likely to cause conflicts. If you have any issues after installing them, they are probably the reason you can't get on the Internet. Which means an uninstall.

Antivirus - There are two I can recommend. AVG has worked well for me for years on many computers. So I can recommend it highly. However, another up-and-coming one seems to be a little leaner and just as good. Avira AntiVir is my current choice on both my computers right now. and so far, I've had no problems. And it's half the size to download as the ever-burgeoning AVG.

For you Mac users, I do have an antivirus to suggest (though I have no firsthand experience): ClamXav. I found this from threads at, mainly because the increased number of Macs out there means they will begin to be a target for viruses and I wanted something to suggest. So if you want to be more secure, it's time to break down and get an antivirus.

Spyware - My personal preference is Spybot Search and Destroy. It's not the most user-friendly of the bunch, but it does an excellent job. An alternative (because Spybot didn't like my sister's computer) is Ad-Aware. This is one I've recommended and used, although not recently. So one of these will suffice. A third one I'm going to suggest is specifically if you have to deal with those fake antivirus programs (Antivirus 2009 and the like). That would be Malwarbytes Anti-Malware. It's only a free trial, but it could save your computer if you get infected.

Firewalls - I have three levels of protection I recommend. If you have nothing else, Windows does have a firewall.

If you have no other software one installed, turn it on. If you're dialup, good enough. For those of you doing high speed (this is the 21st century), you should probably have a router. Because not only do you get to hook up multiple computers wirelessly, the router has a built-in firewall. Combined with the windows firewall, this is ok protection for the cautious browser. This is my mother's setup)

But for those of you like me who like to look at more interesting stuff (like midget porn and donkey shows), you need a software firewall. My choice (except for one old computer that didn't like it, and my mother's computer where there was some problem) is Zone Alarm. Not too invasive, but it stops Insipid Entrails from getting online (because I make the Microsoft devil spawn ask to connect). Both my computers are running this with Avira (and previously AVG) and have had no problems. An alternative (though I personally didn't like its layout) is Comodo. It's worth a try if Zone Alarm is being bitchy.

Browsers and Email and Messengers, Oh My!

If you're looking at this page on Microsoft Internet Explorer (hereafter referred to as Idiot Exploder or wahtever names I can come up with using the initials IE), shame, shame, shame (especially you wankers that despise Big Corporate). Especially when there are so many freer, more secure browsers out there. Ones like Apple's Safari, Google Chrome, and Opera (been there, used them).

But if you look to the left, you'll see my permanent button for Mozilla Firefox. This is because Firefox (an open source program born from the old Netscape browser) is faster and more secure than Impotent Expeller, as customizable as can be (including an add-on that can render pages like Incontinent Exhaler (listed below with the others)), and is the choice browser for every tech person I know. It's one of the few programs we actively suggest for people in tech support.

For messaging while at work, I'm still using the now-aging Trillian (because it's on the approved list). But on at least one of my computers (with the other to follow soon), I've made the switch to Digsby, mainly because I can check my Gmail and Facebook, in addition to the Hotmail and Yahoo accounts Trillian handles. And if you're relying on a monomessenger (like MSN or Yahoo), live in the now.

And Now You Know...The Rest, of the Software

Diagnostic and computer management software - The last time I posted, someone pointed me to a program now called Advanced System Care. It's essentially a one-stop file cleaner/ disk defragmenter/ registry optimizer/ spyware cleaner, and so on. For more novice users, there's one button that does all the work (of course I don't use it). With one click. 'Nuff said. For more basic cleaning, there's always CCleaner. It's basic, but it's tried, tested, and recommended. And it started its life known as CrapCleaner. Again, 'nuff said.

Substitute for the Debil (Microsoft Orifice) - First on my list is OpenOffice. I'ts free. It's as good as the Microsoft beast. I don't think I need to elaborate. If you want super simple for a flash drive, try AbiWord Portable. I had the installed version, and it was simple and compatible with the Office docs. Online, the option is Google Docs. Since most of my fellow bloggers have Google logins, it's simply a click away (especially for a Google whore like me).
Multitasking bitch tool - At work, I like my programs along the bottom in a certain order (to find them fast. If they got out of order, I had to reload the shit (which sucks when teching a call). However, Taskbar Shuffle fixed that. If you've ever moved tabs in Firefox, taskbar shuffle lets you do the same things down below.
Parental control - For simpler (younger) control, the Firefox addon I found to stop my youngling from typing the letter K in three times and getting results is FoxFilter. However, that only blocks crap in Firefox.

If you want more control, and can trust your kids not to try bypassing it, theres OpenDNS. There's lots of things to do here. I have it on both my computers, but I still don't block anything. If you've got it working, the button on the left will tell you so. Best of all, you don't install anything, except two numbers: and And if you don't know where to put the numbers, there's more info on the OpenDNS page.

To really lock down the computer, the one that worked for me was K9 Web Protection. The only problem is that this locks down the whole computer. It's great if the padawans have their own PC and administrator access. If you've got to share and like your titties, it's a little inconvenient.

Death to Adobe - Adobe reader is a staple on most computers for reading PDF files. It's a bloated resource whore. I banned it from my computers for the tiny, but just as good Foxit Reader. Occasionally you'll run into a bastard site that insists on Adobe (the dentist I had my tooth extracted had a web form that did this) or an install disk that will demand installing the shit (my otherwise excellent Linksys router, for example (router install disks in general are evil)), but they're really not worth it.

Replacing the add/remove programs - Uninstalling programs in Windows doesn't always work, because some programs fight you. However, I found Revo Uninstaller. After doing a system restore, it runs the uninstall program, then hunts down the shit the resident uninstall program doesn't remove. I'm still finding cool things it can do.

Miscellaneous Firefox Addons - I have all these installed at work and at home. Download Statusbar makes downloads not pop up a box (and I download a lot). ForecastFox puts the weather up (mostly cloudy, 72 degrees right now, no clicking) on the bar. Xmarks saves and syncs bookmarks and passwords over multiple computers AND backs them up. Tab Buttons gives you the ability to reopen the tab you just accidentally closed or open a new tab with one click. And IE Tab makes Insipid Expansion obsolete (because you can even go to the windows update page with it.

Final Thoughts (Or Lack Thereof)

Keeping your computers cleaned up is your responsibility (not your kids'). So here's what I suggest:

1. Plan for regular maintenance - Your antivirus scans and updates regularly, and your firewall (if you have one) runs constantly. But spyware cleaners and disk utilities have to be run to be most effective. if you don't know that all these are scanning, plan a day that you do the scans (and you can do other things while the computer works).

2. Don't download shit - One person with their head not inserted in their ass should be in charge of managing all the program downloads to a computer. This includes keeping off programs that suck resources, as well as those that just bloat the system (Dell is notorious for sending computers full of deletable stuff). And cleaning out the stuff already installed can work wonders. If you look on your desktop, down by the time, and there are three messenger programs, Limewire (or anything P2P), and 3 or 4 utilities that are supposed to boost your productivity, start disabling or removing stuff. And don't even get me started on the evils of toolbars (some just suck, some are actually spyware). And if there's any doubt about how I feel, has one that will raise money for the FairTax. Don't download it. Send them cash instead.

3. Divide and Conquer - If you've got multiple people sharing one computer, set up separate user accounts. That way, you get two advantages. First, you don't have to search for your shit in a gazillion other files someone (younger) with Limewire just downloaded. Everyone customizes their own desktop to their preferences, and no one has to fight. And best of all, the ones that have the propensity to download junk can be denied administrator rights. This limits the amount of damage they can do. It's amazing what a 4-year-old can reprogram, I tell you.

4. Backup, Backup, Backup - I've got my documents emailed to me and floating online. I've found a way to turn my Gmail into storage. I've burned CDs with pictures, and I'm working on getting them downloaded online with Picasa. My taxes, which I do online, are backed up online, as well as with hard copy. This is all because I have lost things. Things that I can't get back. Long story short, you need a few layers of back up. You could spring for something like Carbonite, or the freer but limited Mozy as well. Just remember, digital can disappear really fast.

Okay, that's it. If you're looking for any particular kind of program, let me know below. If you have a good thing to suggest, likewise. Any questions of a more sensitive nature concerning your computer, drop me an email. I'm good with the whole confidentiality thing. At least I haven't stalked the people I have hunted down online. But that's another post.


dmarks said...

" have worked in two computer stores and 3 stints with RadioShack"

So, was it the official policy to give people the third degree, demanding personal information, when they bought something even as small as a battery?

I had that happen so many times at Radio Shack.

rockync said...

I have had so much trouble over the years with protection programs, have evolved to the point where my firewall is off, there is no virus protection. The most trouble I've had in recent times has been with trojans and worms, so I finally bought the Malwarebytes which proved very reliable in the free version.
I'm still using IE although I've been trying out alternatives. I have Firefox on my computer but I find it rather slow moving.
The Professor will be visiting this wekkend and he's my computer go-to guy (one of my sons; that's my Dad's name for him) so I may give Opera a try since that is what he uses.

dmarks said...

Firefox is also plagued with annoying popups (popups sent by the browser the harass you about saving password, as opposed to page-sent popups). A couple of years ago, Firefox had problems rendering pages correctly, but I think it is a lot better now.

Every time I try Opera, there are a lot of pages it has trouble rendering correctly.

Dave Miller said...

Hey Patrick,

It looks like my computer had an unprotected affair and picked something up.

Here are the symptoms.

No Administrator privileges, no ability to soft boot, no regedit ability, no grpedit ability.

Any ideas.

You can e mail me at gdldave at yahoo dot com


Patrick M said...

Dmarks: When I first started with them, it was (as in they required you get a certain percentage (I stayed above 90%)), so that they could churn out fliers. Then they eased off and, surprise, a lot fewer people got them. I guess they've been going back to it.

Rocky: It's a fine-tuning thing (because we all have those problems (thus my diclaimerage)). Hopefully you either have just the Windows firewall on, or are at least behind a router.

On Firefox and Opera:
Firefox almost never has a problem rendering anything. The addon of IE tab solves that by rendering it like IE would. Opera, on the other hand, uses their own rendering engine. And Safari and Chrome use a similar one. But the Internet was designed with IE in mind first, with Firefox being a close second.

As for Firefox speeds, it's slower loading initially (because IE is part of Windows (and therefore most vulnerable)) but does better on page loads once it's started.

Dave: I'll get some specifics from you in the email, but if it's corrupted that bad, there's a good chance you're looking at wiping the system and starting over.

TRUTH 101 said...

Exiting from the goddamn Sims program my youngest leaves running all the time is a gigantic pain in the ass. How do I remedy that short of deleting the damn game which would require me to endure hours of whining Illustrious Guru of the computer?

Satyavati devi dasi said...

There are plenty of things I would like to give you a multitudinous asswhuppin for, Patrick, but props where due.

You have made a Firefox believer and an OpenOffice convert out of me.

I like the Advanced System Care program for the most part.

And I don't like fancy toolbars. For the most part I don't like anything too fancy on my computer. I have MIRC, yahoo messenger, facebook.. itunes and a few miscellaneous things. No big resource hogs except for Sim City, which may be the mother of all process-gobblers. I do like Adobe because I am just comfortable with it. Really I don't ask my computer to do a whole hell of a lot, so I expect it to do what I do ask very well.

Apart from some persistent issues with the Line 6 Edit program, I'm doing good.

Thanks for your help :*

rockync said...

Truth - my solution for that was to make sure everyone had their own damn computer!

Anonymous said...

I'm with Saty....a Firefox convert because of you, and I am completely satisfied. I know that is of utmost importance to you. :-)

"And if you doubt me still, remember: I want you to read me (and worship and obey (and get me a date)), so killing your computers would defeat one of my most egomaniacal reasons for blogging."

It's not good to make me literally laugh out loud at 2:00 in the morning with sleeping kids!!

I'll forgive you because of your great tips though!! :-)

Patrick M said...

101: What Rocky said (I'm up to 3 (2 for me!)). Unfortunately ,the only other trick is to kill the program in the task manager (Ctrl-Alt-Delete). That's not necessarily a good thing. Everything else involves whining.

You could, if you can figure out the timing, set up a program to automatically log off Windows. Will probably take less time, too.

Saty: MIRC, yahoo messenger, facebook..

Lean it up with Digsby and you'll be Kool and the Gang.

Jenn: You should know better than to read me at 2 AM. Because you never know where I'll go next. Come to think of it, neither do I.

TRUTH 101 said...

Rocky and Patrick: your suggestion is appreciated. Unfortunatly, after buying three computers, three more cars, paying for two college educations, thank God the oldest just graduated even though she's staying with me this summer, along with her useless boyfriend, (Archie Bunker, Meathead thing going on) and other assorted bullshit, I have no money for a computer for my youngest. Any used ones offered are only 128k ram and don't have the speed to run Sims.

I guess I'm screwed.

Left Coast Rebel said...

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Patrick M said...

101: Are you paying too much for computers? I have seen new systems pretty damn cheap. Satyavati found this one for under $300 w/monitor:
It's a throwaway Eediot-Machine, but it might be within the price range. Another option is if your youngest is old enough, a part-time job to buy a computer that'll do the deed. Or there's always fender bender insurance money and a chain to pull out the bent fender (it worked for me once).

TRUTH 101 said...

That's how I got our last computer. A lady backed into my truck and the insurance gave me $600. I said screw this piece of crap truck. I need a new computer.

Good advice anyway Patrick. God you make it difficult to speak ill of and to you.