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Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Top Ten Blogs May 2007

As always I end 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 May in no particular order…

  1. Auto Update Programs Running All the Time

  2. PC World: June Tool of the Month

  3. Harry McCracken Is Having a Good Day

  4. Is Your Hard Drive Air Conditioned?

  5. Google Reports on Web-based Dangers

  6. Windows Update Sponsored By...

  7. WinPatrol: 100 Best Products of 2007

  8. Signature Update Kills Computers in China

  9. Google is still #1, Ask.com Fails Test

  10. Desktop to Tabletop with Microsoft Surface™

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Desktop to Tabletop with Microsoft Surface™

This morning on the Today Show, Bill Gates unveiled one of the coolest things I’ve seen come out of Microsoft is years. It’s a 42” x 21” inch table about 22 inches high with a 30 inch multi-point touch screen. It provides a computing experience that until now was only available in Sci-Fi movies. It’s called Microsoft Surface™ and you can see what it can do at http://www.microsoft.com/surface/.

Microsoft Surface Press Photo

While I love the demo applications I still haven’t seen what will be the killer application that will bring Surface to the main stream consumer. Without a practical killer app the Surface table top could just be a novelty and looks like a high definition version of Microsoft Bob. I’m sure it will have plenty of uses in Vegas but moving it into home will take some imagination.

Luckily, there are plenty of folks out there with imagination. My brain can’t stop thinking of potential killer apps. As soon as an SDK is available I’ll be getting my hands on it. Now that the device is public I’m sure I won’t be the only one.

Will I pay the estimated $5000–$10,000 initial price tag to have this cool toy in my home/office? Hard to say at this time but I know I want one. I may have to wait until they have one that tilts up like an easel or it will quickly kill my back. The ergonomics of the tabletop computer is a real drawback.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Google is still #1, Ask.com Fails Test

There has been a lot of talk these days about new search company's taking on Google and trying to take some of their traffic away. Ask.com created an aggressive multi-million dollar ad campaign claiming they have a better algorithm for searches. In the SF Bay area, the highways have been littered with billboards that say “The Algorithm Killed Jeeves.” TV commercials paint Google as an evil information monopoly with Ask.com being an underground savior.

According to a new study this month by Hitwise, Google is still king of the search with 64.13% of the traffic. Yahoo followed with 21.26% and MSN with 9.15%. Ask.com came in 4th with 3.48% While is data shows where people are searching it doesn't say who is best.

To find out who is best, I use the "Pytlovany Test". Having a unique last name I've found it to be a good keyword to find out who has the best search bots and methodology. A search on "Pytlovany" on most search engines will usually find a number of references to me and my family and not much else.

Google not only returns the most results, but the topics that show up first are relevant and timely. Currently, the first result is this Blog which makes sense since it's updated regularly. It probably doesn't hurt that my Blog is hosted by Google. I haven't looked at all the results but they claim to find over 9000 references. This number includes non-English web pages.

Yahoo returns about 1200 hits and seems to like my LinkedIn profile. Bits from Bill is listed 4th and other results are all very relevant to anyone searching on Pytlovany.

MSN or Live Search returns over 1800 hits with this Blog at the top and nicely spreads out the results with other family members and their pages.

Ask.com returned less than a thousand sites but the results were the most annoying. On the top of their list is a link to the "Pytlovany Surname Resource Center". This is a genealogy page created to attract search traffic by listing every name they can find. It has no meaning to anyone searching and should not be included.

These days a lot of content is stolen and copied to adware sites so even the Pytlovany name isn’t safe . I decided to look more carefully at the first 5 pages of results to see how accurate the search was. I was pretty happy with what I found. Most sites listed references to myself and family members.

The only failure was to Ask.com. In the first 50 sites returned, 8 were bogus genealogy sites, surname databases, and others looking to get my attention instead of providing results. I admit, I wasn’t a fan of Ask.com and their Toolbar/Zwinky stuff but my test doesn’t lie. It will be interesting to see if spending millions of dollars promoting their poor technology will calculate into more users.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day Thoughts

Support our troops10th Mountain Division Fort DrumMy thoughts today go out to 10th Mountain Division, based out of Fort Drum NY and their families. While many of us enjoy the privilege of picnics with family and friends our soldiers continue to search for their brothers missing since they were kidnapped on May 12th.


Tribute to the 10th Mountain Division and their mission of no man left behind

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Sunbelt Competitive Update for $9.95

I often am asked for advice on what AntiSpyware programs to use in addition to WinPatrol’s protection. It’s not a question I can always answer because it really depends on who’s using the computer and what their online habits are.  Anyone with a brain will tell you never depend on just one security program.


My daughter Amy uses CounterSpy from Sunbelt Software and has been pretty happy. I’ve had a chance to meet some of the folks at Sunbelt and consider them good people.


Software sales are always a little slow in the summer so Sunbelt has come up with a way to keep their sales people busy.  They’re offering their Counter Spy version 2 software for as low as $9.95. It’s a competitive upgrade offer but it appears they’ll take your word on what competitor you’ve been using. 


For $9.95,  I think it’s worth checking it out. You have until June 30th.   More Info

Click her to read what PC Magazines guru Neil Rubenking thinks

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Signature Update Kills Computers in China

Anyone who has read my columns knows I’m not a big fan of auto-updates. I’ve even recommended most users wait a week to implement some of the Tuesday security updates for Windows to see what other problems they cause. As a software developer I know how important it is to test the littlest change and that many errors just won’t be found no matter how much it’s tested in the lab.

Last week what should have been a simple data update in Symantecs signature database disabled thousands of their customers in China. Based on information in the new signature Norton AntiVirus software automatically quarantined two Microsoft files necessary for Windows to run. Users who tried to reboot after running one of Nortons scanners were greeted with a fatal system error.

The system files, netapi32.dll and isasrv.dll were a part of the Chinese Windows XP Service Pack 2. Unfortunately, Symantec flagged these files as a Trojan they called Bockdoor.Haxdoor. Ironically, this comes just after Symantec released a study about the growth of criminal hacking in China.

At first I thought this was a case of faulty testing by Symantec. In investigating the entire story I found out how really scary it was. Symantec blamed the error on a flaw in their “Automated threat analysis system”. That sounds like new signatures are being created and distributed with no lab testing at all.

In related news, if your XM radio wasn’t working recently, you can blame software updates for that one too. If you’re a XM Radio subscriber you can call 800.967.2346 and they’ll give you a two day credit. It may only come out to 87 cents but it’s worth letting them know its unacceptable.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Google Online Security

I was pleased to read in Donna’s SecurityFlash that Google has a new blog dedicated to Online Security. I expect we’ll be seeing regular posts so I have added Google Online Security to the list of “Blogs I Read”.

Introducing Google's online security efforts

“Online security is an important topic for Google, our users, and anyone who uses the Internet. The related issues are complex and dynamic and we've been looking for a way to foster discussion on the topic and keep users informed. Thus, we've started this blog where we hope to periodically provide updates on recent trends, interesting findings, and efforts related to online security. Among the issues we'll tackle is malware, which is the subject of our inaugural post.”

Click to Read the Introductory Post.

I’m glad that Google is using their own Blogger software for this new initiative. Perhaps it will mean less down time for BlogSpot users.

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

WinPatrol: 100 Best Products of 2007

What does the Nintendo Wii , Apple TV, Guitar Hero
and WinPatrol have in common?

They will all be listed in the July PC World as The 100 Best Products of 2007.

WinPatrol - The 100 Best Products of 2007WinPatrol - The 100 Best Products of 2007WinPatrol - The 100 Best Products of 2007

I’m very excited to announce that we were honored by PC World with a 100 Best Products of 2007 Award. While WinPatrol has a dedicated following, we rarely achieve this kind of international media attention.

“The 100 Best Products of 2007 award winners were chosen based on exemplary design, usability, features, performance and innovation.”

To celebrate this award I’m taking $5 off all WinPatrol PLUS upgrades for the rest of the month. Friends of WinPatrol who have been using the free version can upgrade with a discount for a limited time by going to http://www.winpatrol.com/100best.html.


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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Windows Update Sponsored By...

I wonder if kids born in this decade will realize that we once lived in a world where advertising could be found in specific locations. TV Commercials, Magazines, Billboards and a few others were the only place you found advertising and you knew it was an ad.

In the last ten years ads have been digitally added to sports fields, sides of personal autos and space has even been sold on various body parts. Advertisers now pay for placement in TV shows and movies. Communities have even sold space on police and fire vehicles. Soon we could see widespread use of ad supported phone calls, airline seats, ads on the back of photo paper, and even ad sponsored software updates.

Ad supported web sites are fairly common. Ad supported software is growing. Many years ago, working at America Online we made fun and chastised Prodigy because it was ad supported. Oh, how things have changed.


Now we hear more and more about Microsoft getting into the advertising business. Last week at a conference for large online advertisers, Bill Gates was among many who reassured attendees that Microsoft “will continue to invest heavily in innovation and partnerships in this area”. This week they followed up with the $6 billion dollar purchase of aQuantive. According to ZDNet, it’s the “biggest acquisition in Microsoft’s corporate history”.

I’m sure my life has benefited from products from Microsoft, but I don’t feel warm and fuzzy thinking of Microsoft has an advertising giant. Perhaps Google’s purchase of DoubleClick for $3.1 Billion should freak me out too but at least for now, Google makes it clear what are “sponsored links”.

My real fear, besides “ad pollution”, is that the advertising costs will shut out many low overhead, quality products. The big winners will be companies and products that suck the ad costs back out from their customers.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Google Reports on Web-based Dangers

It appears Google is taking giant steps in finding methods to keep from pointing its users toward dangerous sites. I’ve long advocated that Google implement some kind of website filter similar to what Site Advisor provides. It appears, Googles bots are doing a lot more than you might think.

This week Google published a report that details the dangers found on websites. Many Blogs are reporting that Google says 10% of websites are dangerous but that headline only scratches the surface of the report. I recommend reading the entire report which can be downloaded at http://www.usenix.org/events/hotbots07/tech/full_papers/provos/provos.pdf
(Thanks to Vic Laurie for the tip.)

One focus of the report is how frequently malicious binary files change to defeat signature detection by traditional virus scanners. Signature based scanners are great for cleaning up your system but it should be no surprise I recommend having an event based detection program like WinPatrol installed as well.

Many of the examples to exploit users depend on Javascript or VBScripts which can easily be inserted into HTML fragments. These code segments can often be inserted into web bulletin boards, blogs and advertisements. I am a big fan of JavaScript so I’m pleased that the report didn’t go as far as to recommend users disable scripting.

This is the second technical white paper I’ve read this month from Google and I’m pleased they’re sharing their research with all of us.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

No MySpace for Troops in Iraq

Apparently the Defense Department has some serious bandwidth issues and have decided on a solution. Web sites like Googles YouTube, MySpace and others will be blocked starting today. Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan won’t be able to use the DOD network to access these sites.

According to Stars and Stripes

In a message to troops from U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell on Friday, he acknowledged many of the sites being blocked are used by troops to keep in touch with family and friends.

“This recreational traffic impacts our official DOD network and bandwidth availability, while posting a significant operational security challenge,” he wrote.

Apparently the DOD doesn’t want their network being used to stream music either. Other sites being blocked include MTV, Live365, Pandora.com, 1.fm, and Blackplanet.

I know that bandwidth has been an issue and I’m not fan of MySpace but many families use YouTube and MySpace to share photos and videos. Given a little time, other sites will just become popular and pick up the slack. It won't solve the bandwidth problem.

This kind of selective blockade is just wrong. There are certainly other ways to restrict bandwidth usage without picking on specific sites. My first thought was back to when Google refused to turn over search data after a government subpoena was issued in January 2006. Could this be viewed as retaliation.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Is Your Hard Drive Air Conditioned?

A recent story in Associated Content details the summer time dangers to your hard drive. It’s not the heat, it’s the air conditioner.

Ben Carmitchel, president of ESS Data Recovery said, “On average we see a 20% increase in failed hard drive hitting our lab in the summer as in the winter,” After a survey of customers ESS has concluded that power surges caused by air conditioners are behind the increase.

Have you ever seen your lights dim when your air conditioner or other appliance kicks on? If so, you could be in danger. While most of us have power strips with surge protectors this may not be enough.

If you see your lights dim, you’ll want to invest in an (UPS)Uninterruptible power supply that includes voltage regulation. Even if you don’t see your lights dim I recommend you look into an UPS unit.

Don’t just turn of your air conditioners. In a 2002 PC World story, “When Bad Things Happen to Good PCs” an ESS rep was quoted as saying,

“…heat is the number one cause of hard drive failure. And it doesn't take a catastrophic house fire to toast a PC's hard drive or other component--even a heavy session of multitasking could do it”


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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Harry McCracken Is Having a Good Day

I’ve been blogging about PC World’s VP Editor-in-Chief, Harry McCracken so for those following this story there’s good news. Journalistic integrity has won out and the folks at IDG have recognized how important Harry McCracken is to their PC World magazine.

Harry McCracken is just an ordinary guy.
Life goes on for Harry McCracken at PC World.

For more details on this story check out the following links…


PC World: Editor in Chief Harry McCracken Returns to PCW

“Crawford said, "It's excellent news that Harry has decided to stay on at PC World as the editorial leader. I am excited to move back to a corporate role at IDG as EVP Online, where I can focus on various online opportunities for IDG, both in the U.S. and on a global basis.?


Wired: PC World Editor Assured of Autonomy

"I made a bigger statement by leaving than I thought I was making," McCracken told me, "and now I'm making an even bigger statement in coming back because I'm 100 percent confident that PC World will continue to be a place where editors decide how to serve the people who use their content. I would never have come back unless I was completely confident of that."


CNet: PC World editor returns as IDG exec reassigned


Preferring to move past the details of what exactly happened between him and Crawford, McCracken thanked Bob Carrigan, president of IDG Communications, and Pat McGovern, IDG founder and chairman, for their support over the past few days.

"It became a far larger statement about editorial independence than I thought," he said, referring to his decision to resign last week. "This is an unusual moment for journalists in a good way."

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Wow! Vista's Been Here for 100 Days

The official launch of Windows Vista celebrates a 100 day milestone this week. Not everyone has embraced Windows Vista but Microsoft(MSFT) claims over 20 million licenses were sold in its first 30 days. They say it’s twice the adoption rate of Windows XP when it was released.

Unlike every other version of Window I still only use Vista on a test machine. In the past, I upgraded as soon as a new Windows was released. Everyone agrees, the new Aero interface is nice, but some have complained it can be a drain on laptop batteries. There also seems to be a love-hate relationship with the new User Access Control feature which makes Vista more secure.

According to my Blog stats 7.65% of my readers are now using Vista.Bits from Bill Blog Stats on May 9th.

This is up from 1.3% which I documented on January 22nd. Initial predictions estimated Vista infiltration to be at 15% within the first year.

It looks like Vista is here to stay and Microsoft is busy making improvements based on user feedback. According to an interview in WindowsITPro by Paul Thurrott, “Microsoft will fix or create drivers for any device that generates 500 or more user reports.” Maybe it’s really worth while to send those error reports to Redmond when your system crashes. According to Microsoft, the only exception appears to be “drivers for devices that are no longer sold because the company that made them went out of business”.

This week a number of fixes were included in auto updates for both Windows XP, Vista and Office. I’m sure Microsoft will keep them coming. I’ll probably wait until SP1 before I upgrade my main machine but obviously regular folks have been Wow’d by Vista.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

PC World Damage Control

For those of you who have followed the recent staff changes and controversy with IDG’s PC World magazine there are new developments.

PC World Online has published articles relating to “The ‘Hate’ and ‘Love’ Apple Stories”.

They don’t tell the whole story but they do include links to “10 Things We Hate About Apple” and something called “10 Things We Love About Apple

I admit I’m a little bias toward the good folks at PC World. You’ll want to read PC World Online and decide for yourself if there are problems.

Update: If you enjoy "10 Things I Hate" type articles, I might want to read and comment on MVP Deb Shinder's "Top Ten Gripes about Microsoft" on the SunbeltBlog.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

PC World: June Tool of the Month

I wrote recently about conflicts at PC World magazine and other blogs have been discussing a longtime issue, “Do advertisers get better reviews?”. As I mentioned, the timing was uniquely personal for me.

I was pleased to open the new PC World magazine and see that WinPatrol program has been selected “Tool of the Month”. For the record, I can confirm that I have never advertised in PC World yet this is the 2nd time we’ve been honored with a great mention.

Tool of the Month, June 2007 PC World
PC World June 2007, page 45


Just when I think it couldn’t get much better, I heard from our friends that WinPatrol was highlighted this weekend in “The Record” which serves northern New Jersey. Thanks to Peter Grad and his article “The PC Guy: Spring Cleaning


WinPatrol has established itself as a must-have program for about a decade. In addition to scouting for malware, it keeps tabs on internal processes that run behind the scenes as I work on my computer.

Not all processes are necessary; some needlessly hog RAM, some actually may be slowing your system down or rendering it unstable. WinPatrol identifies all running processes and lets you disable or remove those you don't need. The Plus version of WinPatrol ($29) gives you access to an extensive online database that'll give you plenty of information about who the good guys are and who the bad ones are. You may be surprised at how many excessive processes are whirring away in your computer.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Auto Update Programs Running All the Time

One of the bonus features for WinPatrol PLUS users is they can quickly look up information on new programs that appear on their computers. Our PLUS knowledge base contains information on both malware and legitimate programs and is written so hopefully mere mortals can understand what a program is doing. Essentially, the “PLUS Info…” feature is a “What the heck is this program?” feature.

At least once a month I compile a list of the most commonly requested programs along with some free info on many of the more dangerous programs. I couldn’t help but notice that last month 4 of the top 15 are designed to just sit there and check for new versions.

The following popular programs were among the most often requested information by WinPatrol users. I’ve included some snippets of information along with links to PLUS Info examples.

GOOGLETOOLBARNOTIFIER.EXE
“Googletoolbarnotifier.exe and swg.dll install with recent versions of the Google Toolbar. According to Google, these files run in the background and prevent other search engines from setting themselves as the default search engine.”… More PLUS Info…


GETFLASH.EXE
“Getflash.exe is the update utility that installs with Adobe's popular Flash player. Adobe now owns Flash as they've purchased the entire Macromedia Product line.” More PLUS Info…


SPUPDSVC.EXE
Spupdsvc.exe will appear in your Windows\System or System32 folder. It's the Windows Service Pack Installer update service also described as the Update RunOnce Service. As the name implies, this file should not need to be running all the time.". More PLUS Info…

ISUSPM.EXE
“InstallShield is a very popular program installer. Chances are good that you have lots of programs on your system that used that as the program installer. Isuspm.exe can be used to check for updates or additional product information.” More PLUS Info…


sample of a winpatrol alert when google toolbar notifier is detected
Most Common Alert April 2007


Obviously, this indicates to me that most people have no idea these resident programs are being added to automatically run. If you don’t use WinPatrol, you might want to run MSConfig which comes with Windows and take a peek at your list of Startup Programs.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Harry McCracken Doesn't Hate Apple

I was very sad today to hear that PC World VP, Editor in Chief, Harry McCracken has resigned his position with one of my favorite publications. Many Blogs have reported that Harry’s departure was due to a conflict over editorial content with new PC World/MacWorld CEO, Colin Crawford.

According to most, the conflict centered around the killing of an article titled, “Ten Things We Hate About Apple”. The word is that CEO Colin Crawford, killed the piece because Apple Inc. was a major advertiser. Many stories will soon emerge about the policy at PC World and other publications on how much clout advertisers have when it comes to published reviews.

I wasn’t there so I can’t say for sure what is true. In February my wife and I had dinner with Harry McCracken and I actually brought up the topic of Advertisers vs. Reviews. I can tell you that Harry is “extremely” sensitive when it comes to this issue. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the online buzz is accurate. Harry has been around for a long time and he’s on my list of “one of the good guys”. To be fair, you should read Mr. Crawfords side of the story on his blog, Colin’s Corner.


Harry McCracken tells the Geek Cruise audience about Free Stuff available on PC World
Obviously, Harry has nothing against Apple considering he’s using his MacBook in a recent presentation highlighting the Best Free Stuff available on PC World online.

Talk about timing… the June issue of PC World has a great review about WinPatrol. I can confirm the BillP Studios does not advertise with any of the publication owned by PC World’s parent company IDG.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Back Up Plans and Hard Drive Crash Stats

I wanted to post something useful today but I’m having a lazy day. I didn’t feel like doing a lot of research and writing so I’m going to use this time to preach the bible of regular backups. It’s something that can’t be stressed enough.

Seriously, the number one support Email I receive looks something like this…


5/1/2007 Jeff wrote: “I recently had a total system crash and need to know how to reinstall the "Pro" version, which I previously paid for. “

4/29/2007 Cheryl wrote: “I have plus but when my computer crashed I lost the code and info. Can you please send it to me?”

4/28/2007 Linda wrote: “I WOULD LIKE TO REINSTALL MY WP PLUS. I HAVE MY COD NUMBER. I AM NOT SURE HOW TO DO IT. MY COMPUTER CRASHED AND I LOST EVERTHING”

Do you have an actual backup plan? Have you backed up your critical data recently? Your music? Photos? Address Book? Custom settings?

If not stop reading my Blog and do it now!

If you have or you’re done you can read the research Google did at http://209.85.163.132/papers/disk_failures.pdf

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