Sunday, July 13, 2008

Everybody Makes Mistakes

So, yesterday I got several messages from the Tampa Bay Computer Society concerning the complete loss of Internet access by a large number of people. Seems a recent Microsoft update (KB951748) caused Windows XP/2000users who use ZoneAlarm to lose their Internet access if their ZA security level was set higher than Medium. Windows Vista users weren't affected, nor were those folks still limping along on Windows 98 and ME.

Also unaffected was everyone who had previously taken my advice and uninstalled ZoneAlarm. If you're running Windows 2000 and need a firewall, or you're running Windows XP, and want more firewall than the built-in model, you should be running PCTools Firewall Plus. It's a tenth the size of the latest ZA bloatware, and in software terms, smaller almost always translates as faster.

If you absolutely MUST stay with ZoneAlarm (maybe you lost a bet or something), click the link below to see what to do about the latest problem. It's my understanding that they've already released a fix, or a new repaired version, or whatever; to be truthful, I don't care enough to go see which is the case. I'm using PCTools Firewall Plus, and having no connection problems at all, thank you very much. ZoneAlarm SNAFU Correction

 [recent addendum: I've removed PCTools Firewall - it starting blocking access to sites and services I wanted, and I couldn't seem to correct it from within the program. Now using just the Windows firewall. 6-13-09]

So, who do you blame when Microsoft releases an update that breaks a third-party program? Depends... but I tend to blame Redmond for most if not all of my computing woes. It's so seldom that it's not actually their fault, it just isn't worth the time trying to give them the 'benefit of the doubt', so to speak.

Case in point: Windows XP Service Pack 3. Have you loaded it yet? DON'T! I let it load on my laptop during a recent visit to the WindowsUpdate site. Bootup time increased to about 4 minutes. But that ain't the worst of it! Each time I tried to open Internet Explorer 7, it took 4 to 4 1/2 minutes for the first web page to open. After I had a page on-screen, I could click on links to my heart's content, and each popped dutifully open within seconds. It was only opening the application and rendering the first page that was excruciatingly SLOOOOW. Of course, Firefox had no such problem, so I used it for a few days while I tried to fix the problem with IE.

For the record:

1. Service Pack 3 would not uninstall from the Add/Remove Programs module in Control Panel, though it had promised beforehand that it would.

2. System Restore failed every time I tried to revert to the day before SP 3 loaded. Don't know why, it had worked every time I had needed it before.

3. Re-installing Internet Explorer now that SP 3 was installed didn't help.

4. Re-installing SP 2 seemed to complete successfully, despite SP 3 already being installed, but the problem with IE 7 persisted, and now I know I'm not comfortable with how messed up my system files must be. So...

I dumped all my personal files to a 4 GB thumb drive, booted from my Windows XP CD, formatted the hard drive, and reloaded Windows. I made nearly a dozen trips to the WindowsUpdate site, AGAIN! , until Service Pack 3 was the only update listed that I hadn't installed. I dumped the thumb drive back to the hard drive, and all was finally well. No more than 10 or 12 hours of my time wasted.

My recommendation:
Open Control Panel » Automatic Updates.
Click the radio button next to Notify Me But Don't Autmatically Download or Install Them » click OK.
Now, anytime there are critical updates available, a yellow shield will appear in your System Tray. Click it, then click on Custom. Look down the list of available updates; if one of them says Windows XP Service Pack 3 (may be abbreviated to SP3), remove its check mark before clicking on Download.
You'll get asked again once the updates have finished downloading. At this point, since you already excluded SP3 from the download, don't bother llooking down the list --- just allow all downloaded updates to install.

Hope I've helped, or at least not caused any damage.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

And Yet Another GoodBye


Grisoft has released AVG Free 8.0, and it's pretty. All users of AVG Free 7.5 have till May 31st to download and install the new version --- there will be no more virus definition file updates for v. 7.5 after that. And the only bad news is, users of Win 98 and Win Me can't run the new version. So Win 9x users will essentially be left without virus protection at the end of this month.

But all is not lost. I've been meaning to try avast!, the other big free European anti-virus suite. Since several of my clients stilll use Win 9x, and so do the four old Toshiba laptops I bought at the Hospice Thrift Store, this seemed as good a time as any.

And I like it! It loads easily, it runs quietly in the background, and it's easy to turn off the 'providers' I don't need: Peer2Peer and IM, two things I don't do, so there's no need to protect myself from their vulnerabilities.

Click this link to download the installation file; choose Save, point to your desktop, and click Save again.

Disconnect from the Internet, turn off WinPatrol, and uninstall AVG before double-clicking the downloaded file. (did you notice it was only 20 MB? Cool! The new version of AVG is 45 MB.)

avast! protects from 'rootkit' infections, so it has to reboot the computer to take effect. Connect to the Internet and register the software --- they'll send you a product key and easy instructions on how to apply it, via email. Turn WinPatrol back on.

A couple of things I like about avast!:
1. You can schedule a virus scan to run at reboot, before all the Windows files are loaded --- allows for a more thorough scan of the system.
2. When you receive an updated virus definition file, a voice tells you so. If you find this annoying, turn it off:
Start » (All) Programs » avast! AntiVirus » avast! AntiVirus »Settings » Settings » Sounds » Disable Avast Sounds » OK.

If you're running Win 2000 with Service Pack 4 Rollup, or XP, or Vista, you can go ahead and move up to AVG Free 8.0, if you prefer. As stated above, it's a 45.5 MB download.
Click here to download AVG Free 8.0. It now includes anti-spyware protection, so if it was me, I'd uninstall Spybot S & D. But keep WinPatrol.

Space on my free Utilities CD is at a premium, and I'm trying to keep from making it a 2-CD set. So, I'll be removing AVG from the CD ASAP. I'll probably leave a link to it on my website for a while, subject to change without notice. When I find a utility that covers lots of Windows versions, and a similar program that only works with a sub-set thereof, I tend to favor the program that helps more people. And it doesn't hurt that, in this case, the more broadly useful program is the (much) smaller of the two --- did I mention that I'm out of space on my CD?

Write me if you need a copy of my free Utilities CD. I'll deliver a copy or two for free in the Clearwater, FL vicinity, or mail you one for $4 (or two for $7).

Till Next Time...

DaLe aTchiSon

Monday, January 14, 2008

Say Good-Bye to Ad-Aware

Greetings and salutations to all my friends out in cyberspace. Today, I'd like to say a fond farewell to a friend, not exactly an old friend, but a friend I've known and trusted for the past seven or so years. Ad-Aware, the free anti-spyware client from Lavasoft, is no more. They've decided to stop updating the old version, Ad-Aware Personal SE. It will still run if you open it, but will be hopelessly out-of-date within a few weeks.

To replace Ad-Aware Personal SE, Lavasoft has cobbled together a lumbering monstrosity that (I swear) looks like it could have been written by Microsoft! It's huge, nearly twice the size of the previous version. It only runs on Windows 2000 or XP (and it can be made to run under Windows Vista, but what a hassle! ...besides, Windows Defender is already doing most of the same stuff, however poorly). And it runs so terribly slowly that I can't imagine running it at any time other than bedtime.

Here's a very rough comparison: I downloaded and installed the latest versions of Lavasoft Ad-Aware 2007 and Spybot Search & Destroy. Both install in about the same time. Spybot has several separate updates to download, so it takes nearly twice as long to update as Ad-Aware with its one large definition file. Ad-Aware opens in just a few seconds after being called, compared to times between 1 and 2 minutes to get a splash screen from Spybot (I thought for a while that Spybot was broken, but am now convinced it just always opens slowly, on any computer, regardless of age or speed). But then comes the real bottleneck: Spybot says it will scan in around 17 minutes, and actually takes 19 to 21 minutes to scan the entire hard disk, including the registry and all running processes; Ad-Aware doesn't say how long it will take, and I've never managed to wait to see if it would actually finish --- I tend to shut down any program that's still running an hour after I start the scan, and that's the level of performance I've seen from Ad-Aware. Dreadful, if I must say. And I must.

I've been advising all my clients for the past six or seven years to run Ad-Aware, then run Spybot; each would pick up something the other missed. That's no longer the case. I tried switching the order in which the programs were run; Spybot continued to find 1-3 problems that had been missed by Ad-Aware, but I don't remember the last time Ad-Aware caught something Spybot had missed. And with the new shortcomings imposed by the 'upgrade' to AAW 2007, I don't see any reason to continue running both programs.

Please don't get me wrong, here: Ad-Aware 2007 is a much better program than I could have written. I don't code, period. That having been said, I think the authors, or the folks signing their paychecks, made some bad decisions when they were designing the new version --- I'd have stuck with the old version, making minor tweaks as needed, but keeping most of the speed. As stated much earlier in this rant, this software looks like it was coded at Redmond: "Now that most computers have all this extra RAM, let's use every last bit of it, and need even more for minimum performance."

My free Utilities CD no longer contains any version of Ad-Aware. I don't recommend it; in fact, I recommend that anyone already using it should uninstall it, replacing it with Spybot Search & Destroy and WinPatrol.

I'd like to get this posted, so explicit instructions on installing and using Spybot S & D and Winpatrol will have to wait for a (near-) future blog entry. The default settings will do most of what you need, I just like to 'tweak', then share my tweaks.

Please check out my website at, and the list of free programs I recommend at And please write me at; I answer all computer-related questions for free, via email.