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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Free Spyware Help and Removal

The AntiMalware market has grown into a multi-Billion dollar industry yet  a number of solutions remain free to the public.  A large number of online forums offer free help, thanks to caring volunteers.  I have noticed that many of the free solutions have recently been coming under attack.  

One of the popular choices, AdAware was recently attacked by someone claiming “Ad-Aware is a poorly written anti-spyware program.  The story made a number of Blogs although some have removed their entry after Lavasoft fixed their specific problem.  I’m still a fan even though their Ad-Watch component rudely blocks WinPatrol  from running at startup.

The other most popular free program Spybot Search and Destroy is a masterpiece. The author Patrick Kolla deserves to be rich for the time and effort he’s put into this fine program.  I won’t repeat the specific messages left on the CNet’s Download.com reviews but I truly believe many were left by competitors with high priced AntiSpyware programs.

Another one of my favorites, Zone Alarm has also had its critics even though they make an excellent free version.  It’s not easy to find on their web site, but you can access it directly by clicking here.

The free WinPatrol program hasn’t received quite as many disapproving comments but we promote WinPatrol more as a multi function tool than just a AntiSpyware program. I was concerned about a comment in http://www.wilderssecurity.com that said “WinPatrol sucks”.   I was eventually able to trace it back to a company from India who recently tried to purchase WinPatrol but wasn’t willing to pay a reasonable price.

Microsoft support has come out with their own list of recommended programs and tips designed to heal your computer problems. Just check out http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;898583.

 

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Why Companies Encourage AutoUpdates

A long time ago I learned that many people really don’t like updating their software. Microsoft knows it too, which is why they do their best to encourage autoupdating.  “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” is still a popular saying.  I’m not sure if people are afraid of new errors or if they just don’t want to be bothered.  Even with the promise of new features some people just don’t want to update from their current versions and I have proof.

When I first created WinPatrol in 1997 I only offered a free version. Just for fun, I added a kind of “easter egg” that caused a message box to appear every April 24th which is my birthday.  It popped up and suggested if you were happy with WinPatrol you should send a happy birthday message to BillP. It was always a lot fun and I received hundreds of happy greetings from all around the world.  Many WinPatrol fans even went to the trouble of creating animated birthday cards. Ironically, some of the cards required me to download Gator or included other adware!

I don’t remember the last version number that included the Birthdayware message but it’s been about four years since I removed this fun feature.  Even so, I have already received over 30 Email Birthday greetings from WinPatrol fans who are apparently pleased with our four year old version.  If you’re reading, this don’t feel like you need to send me a note.  I’m happy enough just to have you come and read the thoughts leaking from my brain.

Thanks!
Bill

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Ten Years of Digital Photography

Today I’m celebrating the 10th anniversary of my very first digital camera. It was a Casio with the top resolution of 320x240.  That’s about 0.23 MegaPixal by todays standards.   It saved images in a proprietary .cam format, and the included QV-PC software converted the files into .jpg or .tif files.  We had the most fun when handing the camera other people and asking them to take our photo. People just didn’t know what to do and usually pressed their eye against the LCD screen

Here’s a example digital photo taken in 1996.
Niagara Falls from our Hotel Room
This was taken from our balcony at a Niagara Falls hotel.
The same balcony is in a scene at the end of the movie  “The Whole Nine Yards”.

I’ve learned a lot over the years about taking photos and I still have a lot to learn.  If you’re looking for some great tips check out 10 Tips of the New Digital SLR Photographer published by Thomas Hawk on his Digital Connection Blog.  I learned a lot from this post and was finally convinced to join the online photo service, Flickr.com. I’ve only started my collection but you’ll notice I now include a photo “badge” from Flickr on the left side of “Bits from Bill”.  You can view my photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/billpstudios/

If you’re looking to purchase a new digital camera and want to find out all there is to know, I recommend  the site, http://www.dpreview.com/   Not only can you find out every little detail about the camera your considering, you can also set up comparisons with other cameras.

 

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

WarnHP.html Breaks Desktop Properties

Many of the new spyware variants aren’t shy and commonly change the entire desktop to display a range of dangerous easy to click on links. My daughter Amy recently had a rather nasty malware attack her system and took over her desktop.  WinPatrol barked and luckily she was able to stop the Trojan from making itself at home, and installing a keylogger.  Unfortunately, it didn’t repair some the damage which broke the ability to change her desktop wallpaper back to normal.

Like many programs WinPatrol monitors for changes in IE Start Pages but doesn’t monitor the source page used if the desktop displays as a web page. Apparently, other programs she tried fail at this as well.  When she tried accessing the Desktop properties Windows displayed the following property sheet.

WarnHP HTML Display Properties
This appeared accessing Display applet from the Control Panel 
 and when Right-Clicking on the Desktop and clicking on Properties.

It turns out there’s a simple solution.  Even though our newest WinPatrol beta allowed her to delete the hidden file warnhp.html, a single desktop registry entry prevented access to change back to her normal wallpaper.

If you experience similar problems try the following.
Run Regedit by clicking on the Start button and selecting “Run…
Type in “RegEdit” and click OK.

Navigate to the following registry key
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Desktop\Components\0
On the right side look for the following…

Regsitry Entry for Source Page

Doube-Click on Source and change the warnhp.html URL to say “About:Home”.
If all the malware has been cleaned up you can reboot and you should have access to your Display Properties again.  Monitoring this source key has already been added our next WinPatrol release.

 

 

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Tuesday Security Update Recommended

Microsoft Security Center has posted an update to problems related to last weeks security update which caused problems on some machines. A number of people suffered failures due to update problems including PC Worlds Steve Bass. Steve wrote on April 19th, “Microsoft’s Latest Patch Zaps My Wife’s PC”.

Up until now the solutions suggested by Microsoft included:

Upgrade to the newest version of the affected software, a manual registry key fix, uninstall the third party software (NVIDIA Drivers versions 61.94 and prior or the Hewlett Packard Share-to-web software) or uninstall the update.  All of these require the user to take some sort of action. 

Microsoft has re-engineered their update and on Tuesday, April 25th a new patch will be re-released.  At this time, based on the information I’ve received from Microsoft I do recommend accepting this update. The risk of not being patched for bulletin MS06–015 has continued to rise. The risk of infiltration has exceeded any potential dangers from Microsoft updates.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

More AutoUpdate Problems

Microsoft has acknowledged problems with last weeks multiple security updates and has posted some symptoms, the causes and an official solution. As I reported yesterday, they all seem related to software from HP and may appear as the following…

• Unable to access special folders like "My Documents" or "My Pictures".
• Microsoft Office applications may stop responding when you attempt to save or open Office files in the "My Documents" folder.
• Office files in the "My Documents" folder are not able to open in Microsoft Office.
• Opening a file through an application's File / Open menu causes the program to stop responding .
• Typing an address into Internet Explorer’s address bar has no effect.
• Right-clicking on a file and selecting Send To has no effect.
• Clicking on the plus (+) sign beside a folder in Windows Explorer has no effect.
• Some third-party applications stop responding when opening or saving data in the “My Documents” folder.

For solutions and more info go to http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx/kb/918165

It appears my recommendation to wait until the Friday after Tuesday Security updates needs to be extended.  It took until Saturday for these issues to be reported by Microsoft and it wasn’t until Sunday before news started to spread on various Blogs. While many other security experts continue to recommend using the autoupdate feature I stand by my previous post that AutoUpdates are Evil.

In the old days it was easy.  The general rule was, “Alway wait until version 3 for any Microsoft product. By that time they’d have it right.”

 

 

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Microsoft Security Update Problems

For the majority of users last weeks multiple Windows update went well.  Of course, as predicted a few people experienced some kind of problem but the world didn’t end.  One updated a file, “Verclsid.exe” appears to cause a conflict with some HP printers, scanners and cameras.  Microsoft has not officially responded but a number of solutions were suggested Thursday on the TechNet help site.  Click Here for more info.

The most noticeable change by this recent update is due to the non-security update which affects how ActiveX controls are integrated on some web pages.  Microsoft recently lost a patent dispute with Eolas Technologies Inc. related to how ActiveX controls are launched.  Instead of settling and paying a fee to Eolas, Microsoft reworked Internet Explorer and forced this change on users as part of the recent security update.

You will find an extra click is needed on some web pages before you can view content. I found a good example with a link mentioned recently by Alex Eckelberry in the SunbeltBLOG
Click Here and you’ll notice a new dialog that wasn’t required before the most recent update.

New ActiveX Alert

I’ve also seen some other web pages that look a little funky and  require you to click on the yellow bar along the top of the browser before the content is displayed correctly. If you’re a web developer and you’ve noticed problems you should check out http://msdn.microsoft.com/ieupdate/.


Click for Update from Microsoft 4/16

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Tax Refund Tech for Geeks

If you over paid your taxes you’re probably looking to spend your refund on some new high-tech toys.  I’ve been on a little geek shopping spree and can tell you what I like and dislike.

TiVo Series2 80 Hour DVR
If you don’t already have a TiVo, now is a good a time as any. TiVo received great news and over 73 million dollars when jury decided that EchoStar Communications Corp violated some of TiVo’s patents. Watch for all the other DVR makers to want to buddy up with TiVo. If you already have a TiVo but you’re not hooked up to your wireless network go for a TiVo Wireless G USB Adapter.

Sling Media's Slingbox
The price of a Slingbox dropped below $200 so I had to try it out.  Setup was fairly easy and included an immediate firmware update to make sure it worked with the newest software.  I connected to the 2nd output jacks on my office TiVo and I can now watch and control my TV from anywhere. We’re finally getting some nice weather here so I can bring my Tablet PC outside by the pool and still watch my latest TiVo recordings or live TV. As with any video stream over a network it can get a little choppy but Slingbox has some kind of optimization that seems to change based on the programming content and device.

Palm Treo 700w Smartphone
My friend Tim talked me into this one.  I’ve never been a PDA user because my eyes aren’t what they used to be. The Treo 700w finally has all the features I wanted in the size of a cell phone. I don’t know how much I’ll use all the traditional PDA features but this one gives me a cell phone with all the features of an iPod with Video Playback and more.  Ringtones are now old school. When a call comes in I can see a photo or video of the person calling. What’s really cool is Sling Media has a beta of its mobile software so I can even watch TV on my Treo!

Bose® CineMate™ Home Theater
The only disappointment in my shopping was my Bose CineMate home theater system.  This system claims to reproduce the surround sound experience with only two speakers and a subwoofer. Maybe my ears are getting old too but I just couldn’t hear the advantage.  I was extremely happy with the Crutchfield return policy which included excellent customer service and free return shipping!

 

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WinPatrol 2014 - Free Download

Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Security Update Friday

On Tuesday the 11th, Microsoft will issue critical security updates via the Windows update mechanism. One moderate and  four critical updates will be deployed including one that fixes the "CreateTextRange" vulnerability, exposed a couple weeks ago. There will also be an update of the Microsoft Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool.  More info, click Microsoft Security Bulletin Advance Notification..

While these updates address some flaws which are currently being exploited I won't updating my own systems as soon as they're release. My usual recommendation to friends and family is to wait a few days and see how things work out for the rest of the computing world. I just don’t believe it’s possible to accurately test changes of this magnitude without a proper sampling. At BillP Studios, I do Security Updates on Fridays.

Given all the recent problems caused by autoupdates I’ll be keeping an eye on how things go.  On Wednesday, April 12th, Microsoft TechNet will hold a Webcast with more information on April Security Bulletins. For information go to click here.  If I hear of any problems by the end of the week I’ll report them here.  If not, I’ll tell Windows to go out to update itself.

I’ll also repeat a tip from one of my previous AutoUpdate articles.  Hopefully, you won’t need it.

Whenever a problem is caused by a security patch, it's a free call to Microsoft. The number to start with is 1-866-PC-Safety.  Other numbers and information available at http://support.microsoft.com/?pr=SecurityHome

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WinPatrol 2014 - Free Download

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Death Threats for A Better Internet

If most of your Emails are death threats and every sentence contains the F-word or worse, you might think your company is doing something wrong.  Not so for Direct Revenue, LLC, the folks behind “A Better Internet” and MyPCTuneUp.com. They just archived them, smiled a “teethy grin”,  and said, “its not spyware, it’s advertising software”.  They even drove one customer to write, “i got a knife to my throat and if i get another pop up tonight i am going to kill myself”.

Earlier today, the NYS Attorney Generals office made Emails and other evidence available to the public.  If you want to know everything there is to know about New York vs. Direct Revenue  and what happens behind the scenes at a so-called “Advertising” company, check out http://www.benedelman.org/spyware/nyag-dr/

Internal Emails by Direct Revenue officers and employees discuss creating bogus companies to create domain names, how to use holes in the Windows, creating random file names to prevent detection,  making sure there is no way to Uninstall, amounts paid to affiliates,  and even how to handle death threats from unhappy consumers.
If you want to read what some of the most angry customers said click on “Exhibit 5” and scroll down.

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Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

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Welcome to the End of the Computer Age

Forget Digital Right Management  or Microsoft’s AntiPiracy campaign.  What we need is to bring back the  Software Publishers Association’s(now SIIA)Don’t Copy That Floppy” campaign which predicted the “End of the Computer Age” if you copied that floppy.  This was the software’s industry equivalent to Nancy Reagan's “Just Say No” campaign.

One of the Blogs I read regularly and recommend is Steve Bass’s Tips & Tweaks.  Not only does Steve have a knack of sharing great computing tips but he’s also a pro at finding hilarious videos on the net.  On Monday, he gave readers a link to “Don’t Copy That Floppy”.

It starts slow, but is very entertaining.  Ironically, the programmers interviewed in this fun piece were from a company that distributed more software for free than anyone other in history.  They’ve all retired now, but at one time or another, my office was next to each of them at a company known as America Online.

Groove to the video on Google,  click here or the wmv version click here.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

McAfee gets SiteAdvisor

I had recently said I wasn’t going to try to have Bits from Bill be a place for breaking news but I was just surprised by this one.

McAfee Acquires Web Safety Pioneer SiteAdvisor

I’ve been a big advocate of SiteAdvisor and this is a smart move for McAfee.  I had heard that McAfee was going shopping for innovative technology.  Perhaps they’ll want to acquire WinPatrol next!

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WinPatrol 2014 - Free Download

Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Removing Windows Movie Maker

What Visual Basic did for non-professional programmers, Windows Movie Maker does for consumers who want to create really cool videos.

Our son Chris in Germany had never liked using a computer. This past holiday season, Santa brought him a new video camera and I pointed him towards Movie Maker. He now thinks computers are cool and yesterday sent his latest creation staring our grandkids Marisa and Tristan.  If you’d like to see what he’s learned check out, http://www.billp.com/studio/video/thekids.wmv. What’s really amazing is, his version of Movie Maker is all in German and uses text he’s never seen before.  Movie Maker rocks!

Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to remove Movie Maker from Windows.  If you have an updated XP SP2 system you can’t even re-install it.  If anyone knows how, leave a comment. I’ve been trying to re-install Movie Maker to fix a problem I have with transitions. Even with the help and advice of experts I haven’t been successful.

Windows Movie Maker is a great example of an application which Microsoft could have released as a stand alone application.  To “promote” their own media format (.WMV) Movie Maker was included free and is integrated into Windows.  This is one of the reasons Microsoft ends up needing antitrust lawyers and wastes their time in court.

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WinPatrol 2014 - Free Download

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Microsoft Courts 2006

This week I received my “Microsoft New York Standard Claim Form” which is the result of a settlement in a consumer fraud class action suit against Microsoft. It doesn’t say what Microsoft did wrong but they did it from May 18th, 1994 to December 31, 2004.  After a little research I found the web site http://www.microsoftnysettlement.com/.  

I now see that  Microsoft allegedly violated New York State antitrust and unfair competition laws.  If I want to take the time to read all the legalize, find my proof of purchases and fill out the forms I’m eligible for $5–$12 in vouchers for each version of Windows or Office I purchased. There is no mention of remedies for the businesses who failed due to antitrust actions.

I have to wonder if the Microsoft legal department has a larger budget than the development or research groups.  It seems like we read more about Microsoft dealing with legal matters more than we hear about new releases.   I’m not saying Microsoft is always guilty but they do spend a great deal of time appealing decisions when governments find them guilty of antitrust violations. Currently, Microsoft is fighting the European Union over yet to be released features in Windows Vista because they didn’t obey restrictions in a 2004 court decision

Personally, I would rather put my faith in the developers then the lawyers.  There are a lot of smart people in Redmond.  I’m convinced if Microsoft wanted to, it could compete fairly against other companies and the results would be more innovation.  Some products might not be hits but it would still cost them less than the  lawyer and court costs.

If you want to see what antitrust action your state is doing go to http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/legal/class/

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WinPatrol 2014 - Free Download

Microsoft Windows 8.1 - Full Version

Windows 7 Professional SP1 64bit