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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Monday, April 30, 2007

Top Ten Blogs April 2007

I’m ending the month with a list of the most popular posts. This is mainly to aid people who get here by searching for topics included in this months archive web page.

So, here’s the top ten for April in no particular order…

  1. File Restoration, a new Revenue for Microsoft

  2. Multiple Languages for WinPatrol

  3. Not All Computers are Updated Equally

  4. Female Journalists in the Media

  5. Connection Not a Vista of Dell Problem

  6. Dell Offers Windows XP As Choice

  7. Apple Ad Could Improve New Windows PC’s

  8. Microsoft Patches & BlackBerry Updates

  9. Do I Need a Registry Cleaner?

  10. AntiSpyware Advertising Gets Nasty

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Security Software Competition Heats Up

I wrote recently about the AntiSpyware competition getting nasty but I can also tell you the competition in our industry in general is really starting to heat up. Customer dissatisfaction with the top industry leaders, Symantec and McAfee has left openings for others to gain market share.


Number three Trend Micro recently saw the value of the popular HiJackThis and acquired the free software utility. The resulting attention has more people talking about Trend Micro and checking out their newest products.


Now, number four Panda Software has been gobbled up by a venture capital firm based in Europe. European Capital Partners has a number of internet products and a strong presence in Spain, France and England. The addition of Panda Software rounds out their online technology and media partners. I expect EUCAP will expand their market into more countries and begin to increase the visibility of Panda  Software solutions.


Panda Software
I’ve always said that people love cute animal logos. Smile and the whole world smiles with you.


Here at home, GRISOFT maker of the AVG Internet Security picked up some new technology with the acquisition of Ewido networks. According to GRISOFT CTO, Karel Obluk, “The acquisition of Ewido Networks is the first step in fulfilling our vision of easy to use comprehensive protection against all kinds of cyber threats,"


ewdo networks a member of the grisoft group


My guess is, this is only the beginning.  Before the year is up there will be some big winners and losers especially as Microsoft tries to convince users they have all the security you’ll ever need.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

AntiSpyware Advertising Gets Nasty

Earlier this month I left a comment on an entry in the SunbeltBLOG regarding “Ethics and antispyware”   Sunbelt’s President Alex Eckelberry made some good points on how reputable companies have an impossible time competing for online advertising.


Since that April 2nd post things have really gotten out of hand. First, Webroot Software was contacting existing customers of Sunbelt Software, claiming they had a much better and more effective solution.  Like there aren’t enough new customers out there?


This week Enigma Software came out with a press release attacking a number of online help forums who have complained about the spamming of fake messages being left by folks pushing Enigma’s SpyHunter.


Today, while searching CNet I found an interesting ad section where two companies appear to be openly fighting against each other.  Except for the PC Tools ad, I wouldn’t recommend going to either of the other sites even though CNet allows them as advertisers. 


Sponsors fighting each other or are they the same company?


I’m pretty confident, both Spywarebot ads are from the same company who have a couple dozen AntiSpyware products available under different names and domains.  Neither are related to the popular “Spybot, Search and Destroy” program.  I also found an advertisement for another fake “spyware remover review” site on a nice page CNet created called “How to use WinPatrol”. 


Thank god for reviews from real people and from editors because it’s the only way quality, legitimate products will survive.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Do I Need a Registry Cleaner?

After some comments I made recently, I’ve had a few folks ask me why I have a problem with Registry Cleaner programs. While there are some very good, professionally done Reg Cleaners, this is just not the type of program I run on my own systems.

Based on my own experience, I haven’t been able to find a real benefit in performance based on removing useless items from the registry. For me, it’s strictly a matter of risk versus gain. While I’m sure most Reg cleaners do exactly what they’re suppose to, the risk of problems due to errors or user misunderstanding are too great.

There’s a myth that humans only use 10% of their brain. If this was true(it’s not), would you want someone cutting out part of the brain you don’t use in hopes it would make the other part work better? The registry is the brain of the Windows operating system. The risk of removing something that is critical is greater than the benefits that may be gained.

I’ve found there are two ways which really make a difference in Windows performance.
One is more memory. When recommending new computers, I usually suggest available funds be put towards extra memory rather than a faster processor.

The second is getting rid of the additional programs that run at Startup. While you may think me biased, I don’t think I’m alone on this one. I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently about crapware or craplets being installed on new computers.

Most tech heads agree on these two, but there’s still some debate about Registry Cleaning and Disk Defragging.

I took a look at some of the claims from Registry Cleaners and they all say pretty much the same thing.
“Problems with the Windows Registry are a common cause of Windows crashes and error messages.”

“By fixing these obsolete information in Windows registry, your system will run faster and error free.”

“By using a registry cleaner regularly and fixing registry errors your system should not only be more stable but it will also help improve your system performance without expensive hardware upgrades.”

I don’t think it’s worth the risk. What do you think?

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Old Birthdayware Versions Continue To Work

I’ve created a number of programs over the last 25 years as a programmer but my favorite will always be WinPatrol. The feedback from WinPatrol users has always been strong motivation to continue making Scotty the best he can be.


Originally, WinPatrol was a program I developed in my spare time. Until a few years ago, BillP Studios was under contract with a number of companies including AOL, Microsoft, Gateway, Epson and ABC/Disney. They all paid well and on time so WinPatrol was something I was able to give away for free.


Just for fun, I added what we call an easter egg to the early WinPatrol versions.   On April 24th, when folks first loaded WinPatrol a message would pop up letting them know it was BillP’s birthday.  It invited everyone to send an Email if they were pleased with the free WinPatrol. 


Eventually, I had to remove the message because I couldn’t handle all the Email.  It’s been over six years but apparently, a number of people continue to use really old versions of WinPatrol. Last night when the date changed in Australia and New Zealand, the birthday Emails started to come in. This morning some more came in from our friends across the pond and they continue to trickle in.


So, thank you to everyone who has been with WinPatrol us so long. Thank you for the email and feel free to download the newest free version.  Please don’t feel like you need to Email me just because I mention it here. Like the hobbits, I believe in the tradition of giving to others when it’s your birthday. For those of you who just have to know, the answer is 52.


Ultimately, this also just goes to prove my point.  Some people are just happy with what works and they don’t care about auto updates!


Update:  Thanks to a long time WinPatrol fan Mike who sent me a screen shot from WinPatrol 4.0.2.8 which he says continues to use it daily.


Old Birthdayware Message in WinPatrol version 4.0.2.8

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Watch Out for Fake AMUST Registry Cleaner Spam

Have you been getting a lot of spam that starts like this lately? I know I have.


Has your PC suddenly become very slow?
Are you harassed by pop-up ads each time you go online?
Does your default home page keep changing mysteriously?

AMUST Registry Cleaner's will:
Scan the Windows registry (32-bit and 64-bit)
Clean and fix all registry errors
Improve registry performance and consistency

The subject lines might be:
“Unexplained home page changes?”
“Download Spy-Control NOW!”
“Does your default home page keep changing mysteriously?”

There is a program called AMUST Registry Cleaner but that’s not what you’ll get if you click on the link at the bottom of this Email. I’m not a big fan of Registry Cleaners but this one appears to be as good as any. The real program has been tested and has good reviews on on sites like Download.com and Majorgeeks.com.

The web site listed in the Spam does not appear to be connected in any way with the actual company, AMUST Software. According to the folks at AMUST,

You are right, our name is being used to distribute a virus. This is not a valid site so please don't try to download anything from it…We were trying to contact the provider but with no result.“

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dell Offers Windows XP As Choice

Responding to overwhelming customer feedback, Dell has announce it will begin allowing more systems to be configured with Windows XP.  When shopping online for Inspiron Laptops and/or Dimension Desktops look for the Windows XP option on the right side of the screen.


Windows XP still available from Dell


Dell is still promoting Windows Vista but allowing this choice is a huge concession. Obviously, the folks in Redmond can’t be happy. According to Dell, the change was the result of user feedback on their Dell Idea Storm customer web site.  Idea Storm is like a Digg/SlashDot system for customer feedback. The topic “Don't eliminate XP just yet" has received over 12,000 votes.


Two months ago, disgruntled, I wrote “Dell says No to XP, Recommend Virtual PC” and since that time, three family members have purchased new Dell laptops with Vista installed.  As it turns out, they’re all pretty happy with Vista.

My brother John (Inspiron 6400)  says, “The more I use Vista, the more I really like it”.

My daughter Erica (Inspiron E1505) says, “Vista wasn’t as disruptive as I had expected”. She also had this to say about Office 2007, “At first the new Office 2007 interface annoyed me, but within 20 minutes I realized this was how it should have always been done”.

And lastly, my sister Mary (Inspiron E1405) who had problems that I wrote about titled, “Great New Dell Vista Laptop but No Internet”  now says, “I would have gotten XP, but I’m now glad I was forced to get Vista”.


 

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Microsoft Patches & BlackBerry Updates

Everyone who has read my Blog knows I'm not a big fan of AutoUpdates. I consider all software updates to be a potential danger. In today's news there are more stories of updates gone bad.
I decided I would look at some of the definitions found on Dictionary.com to put things in perspective. Microsoft might want to reconsider the term "Patch" in the future.
PATCH:
12. to mend, cover, or strengthen with or as if with a patch or patches.
13. to repair or restore, esp. in a hasty or makeshift way (usually fol. by up).

UPDATE
2. Computers. to incorporate new or more accurate information in (a database, program, procedure, etc.).

The big news today comes from Research in Motion, who has 8 million subscribers using its BlackBerry device. This week the BlackBerry Email service suffered a rather large outage. Even the folks at the Whitehouse carried on without Email for 14 hours according to spokesman Tony Fratto. This time, they could actually blame their Email problems on someone else. Smile

The massive outage was caused by a new software update. Oops!
According to Reuters...
A massive service outage of BlackBerry e-mail devices earlier this week resulted from a new storage feature that was not sufficiently tested

The company had introduced new software designed to make the use of temporary storage on the BlackBerry device more efficient.

But the procedure caused an unexpected problem that "triggered a compounding series of interaction errors between the system's operational database and cache," the company said.

Yesterday, Microsoft also acknowledged another problem caused by its April 3rd patch for Vulnerabilities in GDI Could Allow Remote Code Execution or what everyone called the ANI Zero-Day Vulnerability. If you experience a "Stop 0x0000007F error" when you try to print you can download a patch for the patch by clicking here.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

WinPatrol 2007 Build 3

As the one who reads all the Email from folks who use WinPatrol, I see a wide variety of notes. Most of the Emails are some kind of thank you and stories of positive results. Many are suggestions or bug reports with complete details and screen shots. Occasionally, I get the really helpful single line message like “Something is wrong”.

Thanks to the folks who spent the time to let me know what they were experiencing I’ve been able to fix a couple bugs and even added a new feature. We’ve had a number of reports that programs weren’t starting and I think we’ve nailed that one down. The only more common report was why Scotty isn’t barking in Vista. I’m sorry to say that one still hasn’t been addressed even after spending 45 minutes on the phone with Microsoft Vista support. My experience with Microsoft support may become a completely separate Blog entry.

So for now here’s what’s new.

  • Added new "Open As..." option to Delay Startup program options
  • Fixed bug moving Startup Folder programs to Delayed Start.
    Programs will now start as expected.
  • NEW Setup/Uninstall program. Much smaller and prevents multiple Add/Remove entries. * See Update below
  • Fixed bug when using "Confirm Exit..." option.
  • Fixed bug adding Programs/Services to “Detected” registry when file no longer exists.

    Open AsImage

    The most dangerous change for me is probably the new Setup program. I’ve gone with a completely new setup package vendor and setup programs are notorious for being flakey. Seems like there’s always some machine that doesn’t want to be compatible which is why in the past we always had an alternate setup program available.

  • * Update: Unfortunately, too many problems have been reported with the newer smaller setup program so we've reverted back to the previous setup package. Anyone who successfully was able to use the new install won't be affected.

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    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Apple Ad Could Improve New Windows PC's

    In their latest Ad campaign Apple Computer has finally pointed out one of the biggest flaw in new PC's.

    Computer OEM's have a decision to make. While they can make more profit by including third party applications, is it worth the cost of the support calls from new PC owners?

    When someone purchases a new PC you want them to be happy. The only reason you ever want them contacting you again is to make another purchase. I suspect support costs are high enough due to the new Vista Operating System. They don't need complicated support issues caused by third party applications or what Walt Mossberg calls "Craplets".

    Perhaps this new Apple Ad will wake some folks up. Meanwhile, we'll continue to recommend WinPatrol as the best crapware cleaner you can get for any new system.

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    Saturday, April 14, 2007

    File Restoration, a new Revenue for Microsoft

    Suppose you buy a new car with an advertised 10 gallon gas tank. One cold night, on a dark lonely road, you run out of gas. You call up your "OnSoft" advisor and she says, no problem!

    We really gave you a car with a 20 gallon tank. You've been driving around all these years with an extra 10 gallons. For an additional $100 we'll give you a code to access those additional 10 gallons of gas.

    Well, that's pretty much what Microsoft(MSFT) has done with their different versions of Windows Vista. If you purchase Vista Business or Ultimate versions you’ll get “Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore”. This feature is not included in Vista Home Basic and Premium. Well, they really still exist, and files are backed up, you just don’t have any option to restore them. Unless of course you want to upgrade to a more expensive version of Vista.

    Friend and fellow researcher Dave Methvin discovered this when testing Microsoft’s Windows Anytime Upgrade. You can read more about Dave’s research at the popular PC Pitstop help site.

    Obviously, there may be circumstances when users will be thrilled to have the restore feature available at any price. Still, I have a feeling that this is wrong. Not only is Microsoft using up my disk space, but the whole premise reminds me of the extortion done by rogue AntiSpyware programs.

    After being called a Windows apologist by Chris Pirillo, author Ed Bott fired back with a recommendation.

    “Move your data files to a separate volume (instructions here). You can use a different partition on the same drive or a separate drive – the key is that it have a different drive letter than the volume that holds your Windows and Program Files folders.”

    I enjoy reading Ed’s Blog but he does come across as a Windows apologist with his response. Telling users to move all their data folders is not a simple task and will most likely break some older applications.

    A friend in Redmond tells me a tweak-like restore utility is already being developed. It might be a good idea in case this discovery creates a little negative PR.

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    Friday, April 13, 2007

    Connection Not a Vista or Dell Problem

    I’ve had a lot of queries and comments about my sister Mary’s new computer and the problems I had reported with her getting online. I really want to thank everyone who offered suggestions including John, a consumer advocate with Dell Computers.

    I wish I could say that the problem was solved but we do have a handle on the cause which helps a little bit. Mary can connect to the Internet at her house after the purchase of a new router, but if she brings her laptop over to my home/office she needs to use a direct ethernet connection.

    It’s not necessary a Dell problem or a Vista problem which was comforting since both my brother and daughter purchased new Dell laptops last month. Support on the phone from Dell wasn’t extremely helpful but they tried. A follow up exchange here with a customer advocate was a pleasant surprise although he was probably hoping I had figured out the solution. At least he could help others with the same issue and I appreciate his efforts for staying on top of things.

    It turns out Mary made the mistake of wanting the best. A big WiFi/Starbucks fan Mary checked off the option for best WiFi card, an Intel WiFi 4965AGN. It works fast and furious with her new Linksys WRT350N router for her apartment. Unfortunately, the Wireless-N specification is still very new and in February was still considered a “draft” spec. It turns out the Intel WiFi 4965AGN isn’t backward compatible with my Linksys WRT54GXv2 router. I temporarily disabled 802.11b on my router which helped but not enough to matter.

    John from Dell tells me things will get better.

    “Sorry about that Bill. Unfortunately, n is in draft phase and has just been recently approved for standard. Since it is still draft technically, I read nothing but interoperability problems on forums and tech sites everywhere. Now that the standard has passed vote (as of March 9th), hopefully these problems will be resolved in the next revision, and with it, new firmware from all vendors.”

    I still think it was dumb for Dell to be selling devices which are “draft” specs. No wonder Microsoft is being sued for their Vista capable hardware program. Apparently, we got some attention because I don’t see the same WiFi card available on the Dell web site. Dell explains the difference in WiFi standards on this page.

    “802.11n (also called Wireless-N) is a next-generation wireless standard that uses the transmission and receipt of multiple simultaneous data streams (called MIMO for Multiple Input, Multiple Output) to enable data throughput and range that far exceeds the single-stream capabilities of today’s 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g technologies. The final 802.11n standard is expected to be released sometime in 2008.”

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    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    Female Journalist in the Media

    Normally, I wouldn’t feel it news worthy to point out something specifically about woman in our industry but the topic recently popped up. My old friend Paul Schindler, recently wrote an interesting piece about female journalist in the media.

    I found this timely because I just about to rearrange the list of Blogs that I read. It turns out some of my favorite Blogs are written by women with outstanding knowledge and participation in our industry. They also seem to be updated more frequently than other Blogs that I read.

    Tops on my list this year has been the Security Garden (where everything is coming up roses ). The garden was created by a fellow upstate New Yorker and popular Microsoft MVP known as Corrine. Along with helping in many forums, she recently put together a great list of bookmarks for anyone interested in learning more about Vista. Click here.

    I also depend on information from another MVP who writes Donna’s Security Flash . Donna keeps up with daily information and has had a number of scoops this year where she had news well ahead of the main stream media. Donna’s also well known for her work on Calendar of Updates and her Internet Security Blog at Dozleng.com. I’m not sure she ever sleeps but she did teach me where Macau is located.

    Another Microsoft MVP who has specialized in Internet Explorer and beyond since 1999 is Sandi Hardmeier. Sandi’s Blog tells it like is it; “Spyware Sucks”. If you’re looking for information on IE7, you’ll want to visit Sandi’s IE-Vista site.

    I don’t have room to elaborate on other women I read like Nellie2, or BambisMusings. Most likely some of the blogs I read may be women and I never noticed.

    I really don’t know anymore about these bright women besides what I read in their Blog. We’ve never met in person and I really don’t know how young they are. I can just say when it comes to the effort they make to help others, I’m a huge fan.


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    Sunday, April 08, 2007

    Just Say No to Online Drugs

    It's always an education for me to travel and meet people who recognize my Scotty shirt and want to share their Spyware horror stories. My most recent encounter was with a young lady, we'll call Bridget. She said her biggest problem used to be spyware but now it's all the spam she gets.

    Bridget really doesn't understand why she gets 20 Emails a day asking about enlarging her penis or save her from being bald. She also can't figure out why anyone thinks she has enough money to invest in their secret stock tip. Many even know her name or location. She does admit that some spam might be her own fault.

    A year ago, Bridget decided she wanted to lose weight and Googled for information. The results came with ads for a variety of online pharmacies ready and willing to help her out. After filling in a simple health questionnaire she was able to have a prescription FedEx'd to her address.

    Even though the online pharmacy she used no longer exists she says at least 15-20 Emails a day come from new companies ready to refill her prescription. Most already know what she previously ordered. At least, once a week she even gets a phone call offering the same service even though she never gave them her phone number.

    It can be bad enough trusting your information with reputable companies. Once you confirm your name and address with an illegal firm, you're in big trouble.

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    Friday, April 06, 2007

    Not All Computers are Updated Equally

    The truth is, not all computers are created equal. Over time as various programs, updates and configurations are introduced, our computer are even more diverse.
    Here lies the problem of updates and even worse, the evil "auto-update".

    While I still recommended everyone download this weeks ANI Vulnerability patch, I knew there was still a risk it could adversely affect some computers. It did in fact, mess up folks who have Realtek Audio. Imagine that, a fix to animated cursors screwed up an audio control panel application.

    I have written about this before but this weeks episode is just another reminder. The increasing trend towards applications using auto updates is more dangerous to computer users than global warming is to polar bears.

    It's not just Microsoft updating your system. Everyone is getting into the act. Adobe wants to update your PDF reader, Macromedia constantly updates Flash, Google wants to update your toolbars, and more computers come installed with a global auto update program from Installshield available to all developers who use the #1 InstallShield.

    If we look at the history of auto updates, it's pretty scary. One Microsoft patch made it impossible for people to use their HP printers and scanners. Even a virus update to Windows Defender caused some people to lose all their Outlook Email. In that case, it was just an update of data, not even a patch.

    This trend is bad for computing and needs to stop. No matter how long the "beta" test or preview has been out, you just can't guarantee that a change will affect everyone the same. Updates need to be a user's choice and there should be an easy fall back method available if errors occur.

    Update from Microsoft:
    As of April 5, 2007, Microsoft is aware of the following third-party programs that are affected by this problem:
    • Realtek HD Audio Control Panel
    • ElsterFormular 2006/2007
    • TUGZip
    • CD-Tag

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    Tuesday, April 03, 2007

    Multiple Languages for WinPatrol

    Last year I wrote about the need to think globally and pointed out how many visitors this blog had from other countries.  As I prepare for a business trip to Deutschland tomorrow, I thought it would be a good time to thank all our friends around the world who have supported us.

    The following is just a snapshot from WinPatrol.com that shows the wide variety of international friends of Scotty. 

    WinPatrol Downloads from other countries

    I especially want to again thank all the volunteers who have created the localized versions of WinPatrol.  We now have 16 different language packs available on our download web site, http://www.winpatrol.com/download.html. Our friends range from Poland, to Albania, to Turkey and this week we released a language pack in Arabic!

    And thanks to our graphic artist Maria who creates all our fancy flag icons.
    Brazil Albania Germany Turkey Spanish Latin America Greece France Portugal Swedish Nederlands

    If you are “computer” fluent in a language you don’t see online, you can learn more about creating a custom language script at http://www.winpatrol.com/localize.html.

    I will write more about my trip to Germany and other topics as soon as I recover from the jet lag.

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    Monday, April 02, 2007

    Microsoft says, Emergency Patch on Tuesday

    Due to a large number of attacks over the weekend Microsoft(MSFT) announced they will release a patch tomorrow to address the recent Animated Cursor Vulnerability that was made public last week.

    Microsoft Security Advisory (935423)
    Vulnerability in Windows Animated Cursor Handling

    According to Christopher Budd with the Microsoft Security Response Blog

    “I mentioned on Friday that this issue was first brought to us in late December 2006 and we’ve been working on our investigation and a security update since then. This update was previously scheduled for release as part of the April monthly release on April 10, 2007. Due to the increased risk to customers from these latest attacks, we were able to expedite our testing to ensure an update is ready for broad distribution sooner than April 10.”

    Thanks to all the folks who left comments to my post on Friday, Animated Cursors, Yet Another Zero-Day Vulnerability. If you have installed any 3rd party solutions, be sure to Uninstall them before this update.

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