Monday, June 30, 2008

Advanced WindowsCare

We need to use a lot of different tools to fix and optimize computers.  It's a pain to have to search for different software for different problems, and that's why Advanced WindowsCare is a nice option. It lets you perform several cleaning tasks with a single scan.

The software can do seven different scans:

  • Spyware Removal. I haven't been able to give this a full test on an infected machine, but it does seem to find some of the more common types of spyware and gives you a chance to clean it. I wouldn't use it for this purpose alone, but it should be used when scanning.
  • Security Defense. Much like Spyware Blaster, this software set registry keys so that spyware can't infect your computer. You'll get a very large number of "errors" the first time you scan, but that only means that you need to set it up to protect against spyware, not that you have it.
  • Registry Fix. Like CCleaner, this repairs problems with your registry. Advanced WindowsCare automatically backs up the registry the first time you run it, so you don't have to worry about it messing things up.
  • System Optimization. Optimizes the system for better performance.
  • Startup Manage. Like msconfig, this lets you manage your startup items and turn off things you don't need -- and gives you a guide as to what is safe to turn off.
  • Privacy Sweep. Cleans out your activity and web browsing records.
  • Junk Files Clean. Deletes unneeded files from your profile.

There are also some additional bits of software that keeps you computer running better, including SmartRAM, which releases RAM so it can be reused when software stops running.

It's a very nice all-in-one tool for optimizing and repairing your computer.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Resnet in Canada

I recently returned from this year's Resnet Conference in Fredericton, NB. 

Resnet is a conference of college IT professionals, with special focus on student computing. It's a great place to network with other computer professionals and pick up ideas.

Fredericton is a beautiful city.  I spent my free time wandering in the city. It dates from the 18th century, when New Brunswick became part of British Canada and the main downtown is on the Saint John River with a beautiful park on the river side. In the center of town is the garrison district, which used to be the British garrison in colonial days.

I went on the free tour of the district. I was actually the only one on the tour, but there was the tour guide, her supervisor (it was her first tour), and a few of their friends. They showed me the city hall (which has burned down three times), the courthouse (formerly the teacher's school, and which burned down once), the old barracks (now an arts center), and everything else.  I also walked across an old railroad bridge that is now a hiking trail (part of the Trans Canada Trail), saw a the arboretum, and generally enjoyed the city.

But the conference was a good one.  I went to sessions on using Web 2.0 in teaching, on Facebook, how to use thin clients in labs, and other technical topics. The best was a "Birds of a Feather" session where we got together and swapped information about our favorite software.  I'll be testing out a few of these and writing about them in upcoming blogs.

The conference ended with a dinner and a concert. Actually, we were supposed to be seeing a public outdoor concert by a local Celtic music group, Bottoms Up, but there wasimg285 a threat of rain, so they moved everything into the dining tent. After dinner, they opened things up so anyone could come in and listen to the band, or just listen from the lawn.  There was even a changing of the guard ceremony.


A great conference in a wonderful city.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


There is an Internet joke about the Gullibility Virus, that is based on the propensity for users to forward e-mails to everyone the know without questioning whether the message is legitimate.

Virus (and other) hoaxes are part of the Internet. They never die out completely, but mutate into new forms. The key identifier is that they tell you to send an e-mail to as many people as possible. This is often supposedly because of a terrible virus, or because of some benefit of payment. The funny thing is that these hoaxes appear every few years with slightly different wording, but when you read a new one it's perfectly obvious where it came from.

Today we got hit with one of these, an e-mail telling you that if you forward messages to everyone you know, Microsoft will track it and pay you $10,000. I would think that this would seem absurd on the face of it -- Microsoft is rich, but not that rich -- but we still had people forwarding it to people in their address book.

It would only take a moment to double check the story.  In this case the message said the offer was made on GoodMorningAmericaToday. Notwithstanding the fact that those are two different shows, you would have thought that it might be mentioned on the Good Morning America or Today Show website.  And, with the amount of money promised, it should have shown up on all news websites:  CNN, Yahoo, Fox News, etc. How much trouble would it be to check this out?

Unfortunately, too many people don't follow this elementary precaution and do as the message says and forward it to as many people as possible (always without stripping out all addresses in the body of the message).

My rule of thumb on this is simple:  never believe a forwarded message.  And the odds the message is true are inversely proportional to the number of total recipients times the number of times "FWD" appears in the subject line.

In any case, never forward these messages. And if you are tempted, double check any of the claims made in the messages (if, say, CNN supposedly announced a new, dangerous virus, then double check the CNN web page).

It's not that hard. And wouldn't it be better not to appear so gullible?

Friday, June 6, 2008

What's in a Filename?

A question came up today from a Macintosh user, asking why her professor couldn't read an Office 2008 file she sent. 

We installed the Microsoft Office Conversion Pack back in the fall, so the professor's computer should have been able to read the file. But, after a couple of questions, I discovered the issue wasn't the file format itself, but rather the name of the file.

Windows computers use file extensions to identify a file. This dates back from the early DOS days, when you were restricted to the 8.3 format:  eight character names (maximum -- it could be less) with a three-character extension, separated by a dot. Thus, you'd name a file "file.txt." The various extensions indicated the type of file: .wks for Lotus, .dbf for dBase, .ws for Wordstar, etc. (Word Perfect didn't automatically attach an extension).

When Windows was developed, Microsoft set up a scheme where a file was identified by its extension.  If it matched one of the programs installed on your computer, you could double click on the file and open it.

Macintosh took a different route. The files were read by the system and identified so they could open with a click.

I'll admit I'm partial to the Windows system. It allows you to do things like change an extension from .csv (which is read in Excel) to .txt (which is read by a text editor) and then tweak the data. This is useful when the output of a database needs to be fixed.

In any case, Macintosh users are not used to adding extensions (they aren't done automatically like in Windows).  If you're sending a file to a PC user, just give it an extension:  .doc for Word, .xls for Excel, etc.  Your recipient will be able to open it without making changes to the filename.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Hidden Messages

Siena had an e-mail storage quota to reduce storage space and, occasionally, you may get a message saying your over quota. This can be fixed by deleting messages and then emptying the Deleted Messages folder.

But, sometimes, it doesn't look like you have too many messages. Your inbox is small, and you've already emptied the deleted items.

There's another place to check:  the Sent Items folder. Outlook keeps a copy of every message you send. After awhile, this can take up a lot of space.  If you delete these messages and then empty the Recycle Bin, you'll be fine.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Starting Over

Ever notice that your computer sometimes takes extra time until you see the login prompt?

That's often due to the fact that I&TS has pushed out new software. Sometimes, that requires that the installation be completed after a restart, and, for some installations, we don't force a restart.

It seems especially long because you aren't given any indication of what's happening. Normally when you install software, a screen gives you some idea of its progress, as well as indicating what is happening. For these programs, there is just a vague message.

But this is easily fixed. When you go home at night, shut down and restart your computer. You don't have to be there during the restart, and will see the login prompt the next morning.

After this, though, the computer should start much more quickly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

No More Bounces

I talked before about the problem with bounce messages (the technical term is Non-Delivery Reports or NDRs) filling people's inbox.

The good news is that we've set things up so that these will now be caught by the spam filters.

The bad news is that any legitimate NDRs will also be caught by the spam filters.  If you send a message and get the address wrong you will not get a direct notification.

You can check by logging on to Postini and checking your quarantined messages for those you tried to send. The messages will also be listed in your daily span quarantine report.

I wish there was a way to differentiate between spam NDRs and legitimate ones, but the computer had no way to accurately determine what is good and what is bad. Since the problem with NDR spam is a major one, that's what we fixed, even though it has its downside.

Security and convenience are always a balancing act:  how to provide security without sacrificing convenience is something we wrestle with all the time.