All posts by Brian

Avira AntiVir Updates to Version 9 – Make It More Usable

In a previous article, I mentioned how to block the annoying popup ad that spawns whenever the free edition of AntiVir updates. This is an update to the previous article to make it more relevant to AntiVir Version 9.

Avira AntiVir is one of my favorite free antivirus programs, and the new Version 9 makes it even better by adding anti-spyware features. However, two aspects that have NOT changed from previous versions are:

  1. AntiVir (free) still does not include POP3/SMTP mail scanning support.
  2. AntiVir still launches an annoying popup ad whenever it checks for updates.

The lack of POP3/SMTP support is not a big deal if you tend to stick to webmail, but the popup ad is annoying and intrusive. Let’s get rid of it.

Disable the Annoying Popup Ad

Let me make one thing clear: I fundamentally disagree with bombarding the user every day with a popup ad about a premium version. Yes, I understand that Avira needs to make money, but purposefully annoying the user in an attempt to make him pay to remove the annoyance is a poor business model indeed.

I think the free version of AntiVir is terrific, and I applaud the company for releasing a free version. However, if a user wishes to upgrade, they should do so because they think the additional features are worth buying (such as e-mail protection, a Rescue CD, etc), NOT because they are harassed into doing so. If anyone from Avira is reading this, I implore you to reconsider your business model and stop (or at least reduce) the annoyance to your users.

For the rest of us, let’s just disable it. The file that spawns the popups is avnotify.exe. You cannot simply rename the file to stop the popup because it will be replaced at the next update. We need to stop it from executing.

Windows Vista

  1. Browse to the Avira program directory (C:\Program Files\Avira\AntiVir Destop).
  2. Right-click on avnotify.exe. Go to Properties.
  3. In the window that appears, click the Security tab. Then hit Edit.
  4. In the Permissions window, browse through all the Users. Next to Read & Execute, click Deny for each User. Click OK as many times as necessary.
  5. Open a cold one. Since avnotify.exe can no longer execute, no more ads will spawn.

Windows XP Professional

1. Go to Start → Run, and type secpol.msc
2. Click on Software Restriction Policy → go to Action (at the top) → Create New Restriction Policies
3. Right-click on Additional Rules (on the right) → Choose New Path Rule


4. Click Browse and find the avnotify.exe file (C:\Program Files\Avira\AntiVir Destop\avnotify.exe)
5. Make sure the security level is set to Disallowed and click OK

Finished! All you have done is implemented a security policy that prevents the avnotify.exe file from executing. In no way have you tampered with or disassembled any part of the program.

Windows XP Home (and Media Center)

  1. Boot into Safe Mode (repeatedly press F8 after boot)
  2. Login under the Administrator account
  3. Navigate to C:\Program Files\Avira\AntiVir Desktop\avnotify.exe
  4. Right-click avnotify – Go to PropertiesSecurityAdvanced
  5. Look under the Permissions folder for a listing of all the system users. Do the following for all the users:
  6. Edit – Traverse Folder / Execute File – Deny – Click OK
  7. Reboot (into Normal mode) when finished

Make Updates Invisible

One final change that I like to make is to prevent AntiVir from interrupting any fullscreen applications (such as Movies or Games) when it decides to update itself. By default, AntiVir launches a minimized window during an update, but I prefer to make it completely invisible.

To do so:

  1. Launch AntiVir. Go to Administration → Scheduler.
  2. Right-click on Daily Update and choose Edit job
  3. Click Next until you reach the Display Mode screen
  4. Choose Invisible from the drop-down list

All done. Now AntiVir won’t interrupt fullscreen applications anymore.

Avira AntiVir Personal is a good program – one of the best among free antivirus applications. These little tweaks make it even better. If you have any additional hacks tweaks that you wish to share, please comment below.

Capture Screenshots and Edit Images with PicPick (Windows)

picpick_logo One of my favorite screen capturing and image editing tools is PicPick. Available for Windows only, PicPick is a free tool that does a lot of things well. Here are some features:

  • Multiple screen capture methods (full screen, active window, window control, regions, and freehand)
  • Competent image editor
  • Color picker and Palette
  • A pixel ruler
  • Screen whiteboard (lets you draw on the screen)

Screen Captures

While PicPick has a lot of features, it suits my needs primarily for creating screenshots. It captures images by default in PNG format, though you can easily change it to BMP, JPG, or GIF.

PicPick Tools Menu When PicPick is running, you can bring up a Tray Menu by clicking the icon in the system tray. Navigate to Screen Capture to see available options for taking a screenshot.

I tend to use Capture Region most of the time to capture some kind of square or rectangular area of the screen, but there are other flexible options as well.

For instance, you can use the Capture Window Control option to easily take a screenshot of a scrolling window, such as in a web browser or a document. To do so, just select Capture Window Control, make sure you’re at the top of your desired scrolling window, and hit PRINT SCRN. It only took a few seconds to capture this scrolling image:

Picpick - Window Control Scroll Capture

With PicPick, you can also capture freehand areas, though my freehand drawings tend to suck pretty badly.

No matter which type of screen capture you’re after, I strongly suggest learning or configuring the available hotkeys to speed up the process (PicPick menu –> Capture Settings –> Change Hot Keys). You can configure hotkeys for most any task.

PicPick - Change Hot Keys

If you’re accustomed to using a similar screen capture program such as FastStone or HyperSnap, PicPick also has built-in hotkey profiles for some competing programs.

Other Features

PicPick sports some other handy features, including a built-in color picker, an on-screen pixel ruler, and a protractor. One of my favorite features, however, is the WhiteBoard.

PicPick - WhiteBoard The WhiteBoard is handy if you ever want to draw on the screen BEFORE you take a screenshot, such as to highlight an area, give the user some kind of instruction, or just say “Hi!”

Of course, you can also make edits, adjustments, or create markings on your image AFTER you take a screenshot. The built-in PicPick editor is pretty good actually. I find that it easily handles most common editing tasks that I would typically reserve for something like Paint.NET.

The built-in editor is definitely leagues beyond MS Paint.

Summary

There’s a lot to like about PicPick. It’s free, easy to use, and even comes in a portable ZIP archive. I’ve been using it lately for all screenshots on TipsFor.us.

PicPick is Windows-only donationware. There used to be a bug that caused PicPick to run slowly on Vista if Aero was enabled, but the bug is now fixed.

PicPick – Download

Skin Your Mac OS X Leopard with Magnifique

Tired of the way Mac OS X Leopard looks? No, me neither. Still, if you want a change of scenery, it’s easy to try some new Leopard themes with the Magnifique theme manager.

Magnifique – Main site

To get started, install the Magnifique app (drag and drop). Here’s the main program window:

Magnifique - Main
Magnifique - Main

Themes available for download are shown in the bottom-left corner. There are only about 16 themes available as of this typing, but I expect that number to grow soon. You can get a preview (and download) of the theme just by selecting it.

Once you apply a new theme, you can see its new effects by hitting the Restart Finder and Restart Dock buttons at the top of the app. It’s the same as issuing the killall Finder and killall Dock commands in the Terminal.

One quick note: when applying a new theme, notice that you have a few choices available. Certain themes will allow more choices than others.

Be wary when applying a new theme and choosing the Apply custom mods option (if available). Whether malicious or not, it leaves the most room for the developer to harm your system. Read any and all documentation about that theme before you enable this option!

Some Sample Skins

Here are a few themes that I have tried:

Veritas

A beautiful, streamlined theme that includes skins for Quicktime, VLC, and Adium.

Nothing drastic, but this is my favorite theme that I have tried so far. What can I say? I appreciate elegance.

Veritas comes with a dock mod, custom mods, and a selection of wallpapers.

Black Mac OS X

As the name implies, this is a dark theme for Leopard. I tend to like dark themes in general, but this one is not as satisfying as I thought it would be.

The blue and black clash pretty hard. If you have some custom icon packs, that would definitely help.

I’d love to see a dark skin that fully enshrouds the Finder, erasing all blue elements.

Milk (Leopard Port)

This is a lighter-colored theme modeled after a popular Linux skin.

Like most of the available themes, the changes are subtle, but noticeable. Actually, if I were to offer any complaint about Magnifique, it’s that most of the available themes don’t offer much striking contrast. Hopefully that will change with the addition of more themes.

To remove a theme and get back to normal, just hit the Uninstall theme button. Your original Leopard theme will be quickly restored.

Do you have a favorite Magnifique skin for Leopard? Do you use a different skinning program? Let us know in the comments.

Moving WordPress to MediaTemple Hosting

I just finished transferring hosting for TipsFor.us from 1and1 to MediaTemple. I had no major qualms with 1and1 other than feeling like we had outgrown them (see the downsides of shared hosting). MediaTemple will give us a lot more room to grow without worrying about the occasional spike of traffic from Digg, StumbleUpon, or whatever.

During the move, I had a heck of a time getting WordPress to work. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t avoid the dreaded WordPress white screen of death. In other words, WordPress only displayed a blank screen, nothing else. Frustration beyond frustrations!

I didn’t get it. I moved all my files from the old server. I exported and imported the database without error. What the heck could be wrong? Manually disabling the plugins by renaming them didn’t help. Messing with the .htaccess file didn’t help. Shouting at it certainly didn’t help (though it DID make me feel a little better). What else could I do?

Tips for a Successful Migration to MediaTemple

If you’re having a hard time migrating WordPress to MediaTemple, try these tips:

1. Remove/Rename your .htaccess file.

In your main hosting directory (html for MediaTemple), you likely have a file called .htaccess. If that file came from your old web host, there may be some wacky stuff in there that is conflicting with the new host. Just try renaming the file to something else. WordPress will create a new .htaccess file when it needs one.

2. Create a new user for your database.

What I found slightly confusing when setting up my WordPress database at MediaTemple is how they do not automatically assign a new user to the database (like 1and1 does). Instead of trying to rely on the default database user (dbXXXXX), just create a new user under the Global Settings.

Once you’ve added a New User, be sure to hit the Permissions button and set the permissions for that user to Read/Write on the specified database.

Now just add the appropriate entries to the wp-config.php file.

3. Disable the WordPress Super Cache plugin completely.

TipsFor.us did not come to life on MediaTemple until I completed this step. The Super Cache plugin, while ultimately helpful, was the culprit in causing the site to only produce the blank screen of death. If you had the caching plugin enabled on your old host, you may need to complete this step.

To completely disable it, first take a look at your wp-config.php file. Look for the line near the top that reads:

define('WP_CACHE', true);

Comment it out by putting a hash mark (#) in front of it. My site came alive after I did this. You can worry about re-enabling the Super Cache plugin later.

Moving to MediaTemple was ultimately a straightforward process. In my case, I ran into a bout of trouble for a couple hours while I figured out what the culprit was. If I could do it all over again, I would definitely disable ALL plugins BEFORE sending it over to the new host. Lesson learned.

Overall, I like MediaTemple a lot so far. I’m still doing some experimenting, but I think I’ll stay here for a while. The site certainly feels more snappy than it did with 1and1. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Get Gmail Tasks on your Desktop with Google Chrome

Gmail Labs Beaker I love Gmail Tasks. It’s my to-do list of choice for its simplicity, portability, and (of course) integration with Gmail. If you’re a fan of Google Chrome, you can also easily add Tasks as an application directly on your desktop.

Enable Gmail Tasks

First things first, if you have not already enabled Tasks in Gmail, it’s time to do so. Within Gmail, go to Settings –> Labs. Scroll down until you find Tasks, and switch it to Enable.

Gmail Tasks - Enable

You will now find a Tasks link near your Contacts. This is all fine and dandy, but now let’s see how you can quickly make it a stand-alone application.

Integration with Google Chrome

Google Chrome has the slick ability to turn any page or site into its own application, similar to Fluid on Mac OS X. With Chrome, we can turn Tasks into a standalone app with just a few clicks. I find it handy to have my to-do list separate so I don’t get distracted with e-mail or Google Chat while I’m working.

Here’s how to do it: Launch Chrome and go to https://mail.google.com/tasks/ig. If it asks for a username and password, check the box to remember it. You should now see a full-browser version of your Tasks, but we’re not finished yet!

Go to the Page Dropdown Menu and click Create application shortcuts.

Chrome - Create Application Shortcuts

A Google Gears window will spawn. Tell it where you would like the shortcuts placed, and hit OK.

Google Gears - Tasks

That’s it! Whenever you open your Tasks shortcut, it will take you directly to your to-do list, no distractions needed. I do suggest resizing the window to something more manageable.

Chrom - Brian Tasks

More about Gmail Tasks.

Get Google Chrome.

A Quick Way to Pin Folders to the Start Menu (XP / Vista)

Here’s a quick tip about Windows that you may not know. While both XP and Vista allow you to easily add executables to the Start Menu via a right-click –> Pin to Start Menu, adding a folder is not so easy.

Actually, I lied. It’s much easier!

There’s no need to deal with complicated registry hacks or anything like that to add a folder to the Start menu. You just have to think a little more like a Mac user!

This method works with both XP and Vista/Server 2008.

Drag and Drop

Step 1 – Left-click and hold the desired folder. Do not release the mouse button. On Vista/Server 2008 you will see a translucent folder icon with an arrow.

Explorer - Left-click and hold

Step 2 – While holding the desired folder, smack the Windows key on your keyboard. Naturally, the Start Menu will open. Hint: you can also just hover over the Start Menu orb (or button) for a couple seconds while holding the desired folder. If you simply drop the folder onto the Start Menu orb, it will automatically become the last pinned link in the Start Menu.

Step 3 – With the Start Menu open, drag your desired folder into it. You will see a black horizontal line to help indicate the placement of the desired folder.

Start Menu - Drag in Folder

That’s it. You now have a link to the desired folder directly from the Start Menu. I found that sticking the Downloads and Videos folders into the menu made life a little easier. If you want to remove the link, just right-click –> Remove from this list.

Video Demonstration

Here’s a very short video demonstrating the entire process. Enjoy.

Google Launches Sync for Mobile Phones – General Acclamation Ensues

Google Sync icon Earlier this week Google launched the Beta version of Sync – free tools for synchronizing your mobile phone’s Contacts and Calendar with your Google account.

Phones supported by Sync include the Apple iPhone, Blackberry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile.

As you might suspect, I’m quite excited about Google Sync, and I’m glad to see Windows Mobile support included. I’ve written a few articles already on syncing Windows Mobile Contacts and Calendar with varying services, all without Outlook. Here are some previous tutorials:

  1. Sync Your Windows Mobile Contacts and Calendar Using Funambol for FREE (article link)
  2. Sync Your Windows Mobile Contacts and Calendar with Plaxo, Thunderbird, and Google for FREE (article link)
  3. Sync Your Phone’s Contacts and Calendar with Google for Free using NuevaSync (article link)

I’m definitely going to try my hand at setting up Google Sync, and am especially curious to see how it compares with the mighty NuevaSync. Expect future articles and opinions related to this topic in the near future.

In the meantime, if you have already tried Google Sync, I’d love to hear some thoughts.