Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New Spyware Threat

There a new nasty and aggressive type of malware that can be very difficult to remove. It calls itself XP Antivirus, but it is a total ripoff.

It will usually show up as a pop-up warning you that there is some sort of scary activity going on, with a link to download the software to protect yourself. The warning is a lie, and if you do download the software (a process that sometimes happens automatically without you doing anything to start it), XP Antivirus will install itself, giving you popups, and a lot of dire spyware warnings (all false except for the spyware XP Antivirus installs itself). And you will be required to purchase the program in order to “clean” your computer – really just turn off the fake warnings and keeping any spyware XP Antivirus installed.

It is one of the most despicable of scams. In addition, the software can really screw up your computer; there was one student whose desktop didn’t display once he got infected. I’ve also seen the Windows automatic update turned off – and you can’t turn it back on.

And it hides from many antispyware programs, so cleaning can be difficult. I've tried several times to use things like Ad-Aware, Spybot, Hijackthis, and even Vundofix -- all generally good programs, but no match for this one.

Luckily, there is now fix. Malwarebytes – a new anti-spyware program from – seems to clean it up quite well. If you’re infected, download the final, install it, and let it scan. Malwarebytes is new, so XP Antivirus isn’t set up to hide from it (yet). I’ve gotten some very good results on badly infected machines.

Of course, XP Antivirus will probably figure out a way to defeat Malwarebytes.  These type of spyware blackmailers are basically lower than pond scum, but, alas, they don't care.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back to Basics: Setting Your Home Page

There are some computing tasks that are so basic that sometimes we forget users might not know how to do them.  I'll be putting up some posts to cover some of these.

First off, there's setting your Internet home page. Internet Service Providers and some software want you to go to their home page and assume that you probably aren't going to change it yourself. And you'll often find Dell Computers, for instance, whose home page is the Dell website.

That's fine if you want it that way.  But if you don't want it that way, there are easy ways to change things.  Here are the instructions for various browsers.

  • Internet Explorer. Click on "Tools," then "Internet Options." You can type in a page, click on "Use Current" to pick the current page, or click "Use Blank" to display a blank page.  If you put more than one website in the box, one on each line, you can open multiple websites in different tabs.
  • Firefox. Click on "Tools," then "Options," and click on the "Main" tab. You can type in a page, click on "Use Current," or select from other options.
  • Safari. Click on "Edit," then "Preferences." 
  • Opera. Click on "Tools," then "Preferences." The options are similar to other browsers.  However, I would recommend you select "Start with Blank Page" from the dropdown list. That will bring up the speed dial, which lets you choose from up to nine web pages.
  • Google Chrome. Doesn't actually have a home page.  It displays the most recently used pages, with the pages you visit the most shown first.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Beware iTunes 8!

While I actually like the software (though a nice feature in theory, I personally find Genius pretty silly -- it doesn't recognize half my songs and its playlists are no better than random), you should not install it at the point if you're running Windows Vista.

There are reports that if you plug in your iPod or iPhone when you iTunes 8 on a Vista machine, your computer will crash.  See this article.

If you don't have an iPod or iPhone, or you're not using Vista, it should be OK.  Otherwise, though wait for the next upgrade.

Oh, and if you've already upgraded, you're stuck.  iTunes 8 makes changes to your library so it cannot be read by iTunes 7.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rant -- Downloaders

I like to buy and download music. And I've been noticing a very annoying trend.

The various sites for legal download all require that you install special "downloading software" on your computer.  So if you buy something from Amazon, they want you to install their downloader. Then, when you go to eMusic, you need to install their downloader. And, iTunes, of course, has you install iTunes, which contains a downloader.

So now I have multiple bits of software that all do the same thing, just for different websites.  And it's all so unnecessary:  there's a download capability built into every web browser ever made.

Yes, these help sort your files after they're downloaded, but even that is fairly pointless.  If you use iTunes as your player, you still have to move the file so iTunes will recognize it.  Heck, you probably have to move the file anyway to get it onto any player. And the downloaders don't give you the option but to save the file to where they think it should be.

I'm strongly against taking options away from users, and any software that doesn't let you specify such things is inherently flawed in the first place.

The downloaders don't work together at all, so you have to load up your computer with all sorts of crap just in case you want to download again from the same site.

Amazon, at least, lets you download manually (even though they try to imply that's not a cool way to do it).

I've seen this with other software, too.  IIRC, McAfee installs one if you want to use their software.  You need to download their downloader to download the software. 

What next?  Downloading a downloader to download the downloader?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Browser Wars -- the New Kid in Town

Google has jumped into the browser wars with their own new browser, Chrome.  I've been testing it a bit and I'm favorably impressed.

The most obvious improvement is speed.  It is definitely one of the fastest -- if not the fastest.  Pages come up with surprising speed.

I also like the automatic search function:  type in your search terms in the address bar and it will do a Google search (by default) for the words.  However, you can specify other searches by It will also fill in the web address as you type. 

imageThe interface may take some getting used to. It has no menu options.  The top of the browser shows tabs, and there are only a limited number of icons (4-5) to choose from.  Your bookmarks toolbar also shows up.  Bookmarks are on a dropdown list at the right.

Another nice feature of Chrome is the built-in spellcheck (also in Firefox).  It also handles tabs very logically.

Chrome uses for a default page a variation on Opera's Speed Dial option. In Opera, you select up to nine pages to display when you open a tab; Chrome just takes the most popular items in your browsing history.  Easy to use, but I can see issues if you want a particular page showing up even though you visit it less often than others.

On the down side, Chrome has very limited user customization; only Safari is worse.  It also doesn't seem to support RSS feeds and I've been having some problems accessing some websites (one refuses to accept my login -- it's a site where different users have different preferences; I can log on, but when I try to go to the private areas, it doesn't work). I'm also having problems with some Java pages.

Last year, I checked out and compared the various web browsers and listed the features I wanted in my ideal browser.  Chrome has an impressive number of the features on that list.  It still needs work, but so far I like it better than MSIE or Safari, and it's pushing Firefox, and even Opera (my favorite) a bit.