Category Archives: Reviews

Networx – Free Bandwidth Monitoring Software (Getting the Most Out of It)

Systems: Windows Only (2000, XP, Vista, 2008 / Both 32 and 64 bit)

Donationware: Technically it’s free, but when you see the level of craftsmanship in this program, you will want to donate.

Website: Softperfect.com

networx-prevI recently changed ISPs to one with much more consistent service, but the trade off is that I now have a rather small bandwidth cap. As much as we hate them, bandwidth caps are probably in all of our futures. The important thing is to have control over and be informed of your usage (before the bill arrives). I needed a reliable way to keep track of my bandwidth, so I tested out several free bandwidth monitoring softwares. My ISP has its own online bandwidth usage calculated, but I wanted a redundant system (one which I could use to make sure they were honest in their tracking).  In my experiments, I found Networx to be the best. Its primary virtue is its ability to be as advanced as you need it to be. For my multiple computer home network, it has every feature I could ask for. Let’s take a closer look.

The software is so unobtrusive; it even lacks a full control window.  Instead, you can access all aspects of the software from the taskbar icon.

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A left click will give you a quick bandwidth summary/ a right click will show you the menu.

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Before we get to ridiculous number of features available in the menu, let’s check out my favorite feature.A right click anywhere on the task bar brings up a windows menu that has a “toolbars” option, if you go there you will find a new entry: Networx Desk Band. Activating this toolbar gives you a quick real time read out.

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I know what you’re thinking: But I don’t like red and white graphs! Well, you can fully customize that little read out; I’ll get to that a little later on.First, lets go back to that right click menu from the Networx taskbar icon.

Your first 3 options all work together:

Show Graph

– This displays a full size visual read out that you can place on your desktop wherever you want.

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Reset Graph (Only present if “Show Graph” is clicked first) – This option will clear the current data displayed on the graph, not unlike the trip counter reset in your car.

Enable Click Through (Only present if “Show Graph” is clicked first) – Will make the graph act as if it is not really there.You can literally click through the graph to select things. Be careful though, this means you can’t resize or move the graph window without turning off “Click Through” the same way your turned it on.

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Speed Meter

– This works sort of like a heart monitor for you bandwidth.You hit “Play” and for the duration you allow it to run, it records average, maximum and total transfer.You can then export it directly to a txt file.

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Usage Statistics

– You can access this menu from a double click on the icon.This will probably be your most visited window in the battle to keep informed about transfer totals. The first thing you will see is the “General” Tab:

Not much to do here, except see a quick summary of your total usage all in one place.

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The Daily Report – Here is where you can really begin to see detail present in this program.If you have this set up on the family computer, you can directly see what day of the month the highest transfer happened.If you are not a fan of the spread sheet, they also provide you a visual readout of the past week.

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Weekly/Monthly Report – The same data as the daily, but handily calculated for you either size increment.

Custom – The most powerful data aggregator in this entire software. You can give it the date-through-date specifics and it will automatically set up the graph in the most appropriate way.

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Dial-up Sessions – If you have a minute/transfer based dial-up connection, this tab is vital.It records every time you connect to your dial up provider, the date, amount of time spent, transfers, etc.You might think this is outdated, but you would be surprised how many areas still do not have broadband.

Hourly Rates – for you true statistics hounds out there, you can follow your transfer rates on an hourly basis.

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Export – Oh yeah, you can also export all of these charts to Excel for easy archiving.

Users – If everyone who uses the computer has separate logons, you can track the data per user.You know, easily figure out which roommate is the bandwidth hog.

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Quota

This is a handy system for letting you set the maximum transfer/duration.For me that is 50 gigs per month.I set it at 45 gigs, however, because it notifies you with a little pop-up window when you have met your quota.

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Settings

All of the settings for the program.Let’s go one tab at a time.

General – This tab has the settings for “Load on Windows Startup, Check for Updates”, And most importantly: Which internet connection is monitored. This is essential if you have multiple connections, or utilize a different connection for intra-network traffic.

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Graph – Settings to tweak how the graph output functions.This is really for power users who want control over aspect of their graph.

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Graph Colors – This may seem trivial or nit-picky, but on some monitors you may want to adjust the colors of the graph for optimal resolution.High contrast is an option in every aspect of most operating systems for those who need it for accessibility.Or, you may just want to make it look pretty.

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Notifications – This tab’s settings tell the software when you notify you of certain things.It can tell you if your connection falls below it’s usual transfer rate, or if it exceeds a predetermined speed.You can also customize how exactly it notifies you, a tone or a pop up, ect.

Advanced – There is one truly important feature in here.In this tab you can set what day your billing cycle begins on. I’m lucky, my bandwidth resets at midnight on the first.For some of you, it might be on the 14th or 21st, etc. DO NOT FORGET TO SET THIS, OR YOUR TOTAL BANDWIDTH USED FOR THE MONTH WILL NOT BE ACCURATE!

If you have multiple computers using the same network, you will need to install Networx on all of them, and tick the box under “Synchronization” or else YOU WILL ONLY BE TRACKING THE DATA TRANSFERRED FROM THIS COMPUTER.That will not be an accurate measure of the total usage.

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Trace Route

– This is a power user feature.Your average user will never have a need to track a packet from your computer to a source IP.

Ping

– This works the same way as the command line ping.You enter a location to ping, and it will tell you the millisecond duration of the test transfer.

NetStat

– This is pretty useful, it lists every program or service that is accessing the internet, or has rights to do so, and where it’s sending from and to.

Conclusion

So that’s about all you need to know to keep up with your bandwidth use by utilizing Networx. If you have a different favorite Bandwidth tracker, let us know in the comments below.I am on month 2 of using Networx, and have had no problems, if you have, also let us know.At the end of my first month of use, there was a 458 megabyte discrepancy between my Networx report and my ISPs total report.I attribute this to the Xbox360 updates and purchases along with my iPhone app downloads.

An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part XI – Rising Antivirus

Rising Antivirus logo Welcome to the eleventh installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see the Main Overview, which contains links to all the separate reviews.

Up for review today is Rising Antivirus 2009 (version 21.24.20).

Product link: Rising Antivirus Free Edition

Rising Antivirus is a relatively new competitor in the free-antivirus arena. Based in Beijing, Rising does not yet have the big reputation in the West that other security programs enjoy, but that doesn’t mean it sucks. Google thinks highly enough of Rising Antivirus to bundle it with Google Pack China, so let’s see how it compares.

Installation

At just over a whopping 60 MB, Rising Antivirus 2009 is one of the heftiest downloads in this series, topping even the latest version of AVG by a few megs. Fortunately, no registration, serial number, or activation is required. Just download and install. Some other free antivirus products could learn from this model.

During installation, you can select components to keep or remove. We applaud the inclusion of an automatic USB Flash Disk scanner. Make sure that box is checked.

Rising Flash Disk Auto Scan (install)

A reboot is recommended after install. Once rebooted, Rising will finalize its setup process and do an initial memory scan. During post-install, you have the option to join Rising Cloud Security (helps them more quickly contain a new malware outbreak). It’s better for the Internet in general to participate, but the option is yours. I read the privacy notice and didn’t see anything alarming.

For the record, I’ve installed Rising on everything from Windows 2000 to Windows 7 without problems. It even works on Server 2008.

Interface

Rising Antivirus 2009 has a slick, dark interface. Here’s the main screen, featuring tabs across the top and buttons for common actions at the bottom:

Rising Antivirus - Main

I appreciate the ability to change the Running Mode from Standard to Silent. The fewer interruptions an antivirus program provides, the better.

Rising Silent Running Mode

Updating

To check for updates manually, just mash the big Update button on the main screen. Like any antivirus program worth its salt, Rising Antivirus includes an automatic update feature. You can adjust any additional Updating parameters by going to Settings – Schedule SmartUpdate.

Rising - Scheduled SmartUpdate

To make sure the updates do not interrupt you or break any full-screen applications, be sure to check the box next to Silent SmartUpdate.

Footprint and Scanning

Rising’s resident scanner occupies roughly 8 MB of RAM on my machine. When I trigger a full scan, the memory usage crept upwards of 50 MB – not the lightest program I’ve tested, but not terrible (unless you scan your computer every two hours). Most importantly, my system feels responsive even during a full scan – a subjective test, but an important one.

Rising offers two main types of scan: a Quick Scan and a Full/Custom Scan. The Quick Scan took mere minutes to run on my machine, whereas the Full Scan allows much more control over which disks and directories to scan, including scanning of memory and the boot sector.

Rising Antivirus - Custom Scan

In prior reviews, I calculated how long it took to run a full scan. Since it has been a year since my last entry in this series and the contents of my disks have changed drastically, that test no longer has a valid basis for comparison. Suffice to say that in my subjective testing, Rising’s scanning speed seems comparable to its competitors.

Types of Protection

Rising is similar to both AVG and Avast in that it scans for viruses and spyware, but does not include a personal firewall. Main features include:

  • On-access and on-demand scanners
  • Spyware detection, blocking, and removal (includes rootkit detection)
  • E-mail monitor (POP3/SMTP)
  • USB Flash, CD/DVD, and Network Drive monitor (Nice!)
  • Embedded Scan (protects Instant Messengers and Download Managers)
  • Web Trojan Defense
  • Malicious Behavior Interceptor (watches for program changes)

Like most antivirus programs, Rising includes a right-click targeted scan in the Explorer contextual menu. When performing a targeted scan, Rising will quickly scan the file or folder, then display the results. Dismissing the results screen exits the program. Not bad, but I still prefer Avast’s method of handling targeted scans – if nothing is detected, the program automatically exits. Why waste a click?

One handy feature is the Audit option. At a glance, Rising will share just how protected it thinks your computer is, based on its own features. There’s not a ton of information, but it will let you know if you have a deficiency, such as not scanning for a while.

Rising Antivirus - Audit

EICAR Test

Here is a link where you can download a harmless test file that should be detected as malicious by antivirus programs. As I’ve mentioned before, it is NOT a real virus. In order to test the functionality of a program, I download the EICAR test file to my desktop and start counting to see how long it takes the antivirus program to find it. Sooner is always better than later. Let’s see how Rising handles it.

Rising Antivirus - EICAR

No problem. The EICAR file is by no means a test of effectiveness, but merely whether the antivirus program is functioning and how it handles malware. I should really try to get my hands on a system chock full of viruses for more effective testing.

Final Thoughts

Rising Antivirus 2009 does a lot of things well. The interface is professional, the features are commendable, and the price is just right. Unlike some programs, it doesn’t nag you constantly to upgrade to the paid version. I also appreciate how silent you can make it run, thereby making it an ideal install-and-forget security program.

Feature-wise, I’d say that Rising is comparable to Avast. Both include anti-rootkit protection by default (are you listening, AVG?), both have IM and POP3/SMTP mail protection, and both include specific plug-ins for protecting MS Outlook.

One killer feature of Rising is the inclusion of the USB Flash auto-scanner. More programs need to do this by default, as we have already seen a number of malware programs that spread via Flash drives.

One area that remains yet to be seen is the long-term performance of the software. Rising Free Edition is still a pretty young product, and its performance record is short. To its credit, it has already won three VB100 awards (all in 2008). Hopefully it will continue piling on awards and accolades.

Rising Antivirus is near the top of my personal recommendation list. As to whether it will de-throne Avast on my XP machine remains to be seen (though it IS my current choice on Server 2008).

Last Christmas, I set up a new machine for my parents, and I installed Rising Antivirus on it since I didn’t want them to have to deal with re-registering Avast every year. I’m not sure I can give any higher recommendation than that.

An Overview of Free Online Invoice Software

I got tired of tracking invoices for clients using an Excel spreadsheet. I knew there must be some good solutions for on-line invoices, so here’s what I found. All of these had a paid counterpart, and some of the free versions were too limited for all but experimental use. E.g. when they say there’s a limit of managing only 2 clients, that means you have to delete one and create a new client (entering name and address) each time you have to send an invoice to someone new.

Billing Manager lets you easily create invoices
Billing Manager lets you easily create invoices

Billing Manager

Link – https://billingmanager.intuit.com

This is the only service I found that offered unlimited invoices and unlimited clients for free. They are iPhone compatible, which means their site is iPhone friendly (it’s relatively fast), but they don’t have a standalone app yet. I had some serious problems importing my OS X Address Book contacts (see below), and their documentation didn’t help, but they responded promptly to my emails. In order to use Credit Cards and Electronic Checks, you have to set up an account with QuickBooks merchant service, which will run $15/month. One other irk with this software is that it requires you to disable your pop-up blocker for the preview functions to work.

Freshbooks

Link – http://www.freshbooks.com

The free version gives you one login and lets you manage only 3 clients. They have auto-bill gateways so you can charge credit cards using Paypal (yes, even using a basic Paypal account). This looks to be a nice and professional service… they even sent me a nice snail-mail sample invoice welcoming me to my trial account.

Lite Accounting

Link – http://liteaccounting.com

With the free account, you cannot use a custom logo on invoices, and you are limited to 5 invoices per month. They boast the “most affordable” solution, and yes, their full membership is almost as cheap as some of the others’ entry level membership.

Invotrak

Link – http://invotrak.com

They actually have an iPhone app and an OS X Dashboard widget. The free service limits you to 2 invoices per month and 2 clients per month.

Greener Billing

Link – http://www.greenerbilling.com

Their free (dirt cheap) plan offers you 3 invoices per month. Unlimited clients and unlimited staff access is nice… but you can’t send unbranded emails to clients (in other words, when you send an email invoice, it’ll somehow reference Greener Billing… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

In summary, I thought that Billing Manager was the best deal out there for those users who need a basic service (and who aren’t simply evaluating). Billing Manager was the only one that offered unlimited invoices and unlimited clients.

Outlook Address Book CSV Fields

As I mentioned, I had trouble working with Billing Manager’s address book importer. It worked fine for my Outlook address book, but it did not work well with with my OS X Address Book. This is probably because I’ve got it synced with my 10 year old Yahoo! address book (yikes!), and there are some real messy fields in there. So here are the steps you can use to get your address book into Billing Manager’s format:

  1. 1. Unfortunately, OS X’s Address Book Application does not allow for you to export your addresses into a CSV format. There is an Address Book to CSV Exporter linked on the Apple web site, but it won’t work for this task. You need a program that enables you to export a header row. Download the Address Book Exporter by David Martin & Gwenhiver.net. It allows for far greater flexibility. Download it.
  2. Once inside the Address Book Exporter, click on the “Configure Settings”. Check the “Write column titles as first line” — this is your header row.
  3. Check most of the fields (see image). Outlook doesn’t seem to have columns for any Instant Message addresses, so I left those out of my export.
  4. Open the resulting file in Excel (I know I know… groan… I don’t know another way to do this). Open another blank workbook and paste Outlook’s Header Row values (below) into the first row. Two tips here: first remove the commas. Also have a look at Excel’s “Paste Special…” feature. There’s a checkbox in there to “transpose” the paste. This will paste rows into columns or columns into rows.
  5. Copy the columns from your OS X Address Book Export into the matching columns in the Outlook-friendly workbook.
  6. Save the workbook as a CSV file.
OS X Address Book Exporter
OS X Address Book Exporter

Outlook’s Header Row

For the record, when you export your Outlook contacts, these are the fields that show up in your header row:

Title, First Name,Middle Name, Last Name,Suffix,
Company,Department, Job Title,Business Street,Business Street 2,
Business Street 3, Business City, Business State, Business Postal Code,
Business Country, Home Street, Home Street 2, Home Street 3,
Home City, Home State, Home Postal Code, Home Country,
Other Street, Other Street 2, Other Street 3, Other City,
Other State, Other Postal Code, Other Country, Assistant's Phone,
Business Fax, Business Phone, Business Phone 2, Callback,
Car Phone, Company Main Phone, Home Fax, Home Phone,
Home Phone 2, ISDN, Mobile Phone, Other Fax, Other Phone,
Pager, Primary Phone, Radio Phone, TTY/TDD Phone,
Telex, Account, Anniversary, Assistant's Name,
Billing Information, Birthday, Business Address PO Box, Categories,
Children, Directory Server, E-mail Address, E-mail Type,
E-mail Display Name, E-mail 2 Address, E-mail 2 Type, E-mail 2 Display Name,
E-mail 3 Address, E-mail 3 Type, E-mail 3 Display Name, Gender,
Government ID Number, Hobby, Home Address PO Box, Initials,
Internet Free Busy, Keywords, Language, Location,
Manager's Name, Mileage, Notes, Office Location, Organizational ID Number,
Other Address PO Box, Priority, Private, Profession,
Referred By, Sensitivity, Spouse, User 1,
User 2, User 3, User 4, Web Page

Did I miss any free invoicing products? Let me know in the comments.

iAntiVirus for Mac (Free) – Worth Using?

There has been quite a bit of fuss in the news recently about whether or not Apple recommends anti-virus software for Macs.

My take: I’m not a fanboy of any sort. I am comfortable with multiple operating systems, and I simply prefer to use whatever tool I deem best for any given job. That said, no one can argue that the overwhelming majority of malware writers target the Windows operating system. I also doubt that anyone can convincingly argue that every single Mac needs anti-virus software. Mac OS X is inherently tougher for malware writers to penetrate, but no operating system is perfect. I agree that the best defense against malware is common sense, but lots of people are gullible, and social engineering will find ways around users’ better judgment (or the lack thereof).

As a lover of free software, I choose to run (free) anti-virus software on the Windows-based computers that I manage. I also choose to run anti-virus software on my Mac.

That brings us to iAntiVirus. Many Mac users already know about ClamXav, but iAntiVirus is the other free antivirus product for Mac OS X.

iAntiVirus is developed by PC Tools, the same creators of Spyware Doctor and the AntiVirus Free Edition for Windows (see my review of an earlier version).

First of all, iAntiVirus is indeed FREE (for home and home office use), though it is currently labeled erroneously as shareware on MacUpdate. Just like many free anti-virus products in the Windows world, there is a paid upgrade available that allows for business/commercial usage plus 24/7 support. Otherwise, there is no difference between the free and paid versions.

Requirements: iAntivirus requires an Intel-based Mac running 10.5 or later.

Usage

The main program window of iAntiVirus has a simple elegance to it.

Clicking the Scan my Mac button offers three different scan types: Quick, Normal, and Custom.

Updating

Like any anti-virus program worth its salt, iAntiVirus offers automatic updates. If you want to manually check for definition updates, just click the Smart Update button in the top-right corner.

In the program preferences, you can also set a schedule for both updating and scanning.

Footprint and Scanning

Running a Quick scan on my first-generation Macbook took only 12 minutes. A Normal scan took substantially longer – over two hours. As expected, neither scan detected any infections.

Fortunately, iAntiVirus is very light on resources. Activity Monitor reports that iAntivirus only uses about 10 MB of RAM while silently monitoring in the background. Not bad at all. On my machine, the Finder occupies about 19 MB, while the Dock alone uses just over 6 MB. As I type this, Firefox is consuming about 146 MB. Geez.

During a Normal scan, memory usage crept up to 19.4 MB. Still quite acceptable.

Types of Protection

iAntiVirus offers real-time protection against viruses and other malware.

This is important: iAntiVirus only scans for Mac-specific malware. It does NOT detect any infections specific to Windows. This is both good and bad: It’s GOOD because the program has no need to bloat itself with tons of Windows-specific definitions. It’s BAD because it eliminated one of the main arguments for running anti-virus software on a Mac: to avoid passing on infections to unsuspecting Windows users.

My take: I’m fine with the Mac-specific nature of iAntiVirus. I will gladly accept more system resources on my Mac. Let the Windows anti-virus programs do their job.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I only have two complaints:

  1. You cannot access the program preferences while a scan is running.
  2. I’m having trouble finding any Mac-specific malware. I’m not kidding! I want to test this program.

So, is iAntiVirus worth using? In my opinion, yes. Do you need it right now for fear that you will fall victim to a malware attack? Probably not. But considering that it’s free and uses very few system resources, I see little reason NOT to use it. Despite what many Apple apologists might think, Mac OS X is not infallible, and I welcome another free anti-virus program to the Mac.

Sylvania -G Netbook (Hardware Review)

I recently acquired a Sylvania -G Netbook. I would never say that this machine is without flaws, but for the price tag it is a worthy competitor. I picked mine up on sale at Tigerdirect for $299 + Shipping. This price puts it a full bracket beneath Asus’s competition EeePc. Is the EeePc a better machine? In a word, yes. They have released nearly a dozen models and worked out alot of the flaws and challenges of building a machine this tiny. However, their price tag clearly displays their market domination. So I’m going to discuss why, for the right person, the Netbook is a great deal. [And hopefully warn the “wrong person” that this is not the netbook for them]

Tech Specs

  • Price- Recommended $399.00 (I have never seen it priced this high, especially with the Netbook Meso coming soon.)
  • Notebook type Netbook
  • Screen type Wide-screen
  • Display Type 7 in TFT active matrix
  • External Display DVI-out on Left Side (DVI-VGA Dongle Included)
  • Max Resolution 800 x 480 (In Linux) 1000 x 600 (In Windows)
  • Graphics Processor / Vendor UniChrome Pro IGP (Openchrome Linux Driver)
  • Processor VIA C7-M 1.2 GHz (Sub-clocked to 600 mhz for some reason [can be adjusted] )
  • Core voltage technology Ultra Low Voltage (ULV)
  • RAM Installed Size 1 GB
  • RAM Technology DDR SDRAm
  • Hard Drive 30 GB
  • Removable Storage SD Card Reader
  • USBs 2X on Right Side
  • WLAN RT8187 chipset from Realtek
  • WiredLAN 8P8C(Standard)
That is a basic full size Dell Keyboard for Scale.
User's Left Side (DVI port, SD card reader.)
User Right Side (Mic, Sound, 2X USBs, 8P8C Jack, DC-Power)

Hardware Review

LCD – 7 inches. This could be troublesome for some people, especially operating at 800×480, which is the maximum the openchrome driver can support. (At least out of the box, some wizardry in the X.org config could prove otherwise, but Sylvania claims it tops out at 800 x 400.) Under Windows, however, the drivers provided by Sylvania’s website supports a standard 1000×600; this setting is more than sufficient for most tasks.

LCD Hinges/Bezel – Since I have had some awful experiences with the iBook G4 and its amazing gap that grows between the bottom edge of the screen panel and the actually LCD display, I have grown to be wary of such things. No fear with the g-netbook, though, the LCD has its own frame that is inset into the LCD panel in such a way that it is virtually indestructible.

LCD, Webcam to the right, speakers below.

-My second fear is always with hinges. Anyone else own one of those great Dells a couple years back, where, just before the hinge plastic breaks, it severs the LCD power wires for the backlight? Well, these hinges feel solid, even when opened from an edge. They hold the screen tight and are internally beveled to snap the lid closed when it is about 1/4 inch from the keyboard. There is no play in the lid when it is closed.

Keyboard – Chicklet Keys. This is not the keyboard for the ham-fisted. it takes a little while to adjust, but after 2 weeks, full-size keyboards feel expansive. I do hold issue with the single-key-sized Right Shift Key. The Left Shift is double, but the Right Shift is very tiny and located just on the far side of the Up Arrow (you can see the trouble inherent in this, right?) Once you get used to it, though, it is cramped, but not bad.

Touch Pad – .6″ I wish I was joking. It really is. In Linux, the touch pad sensitivity is jacked so high that you just have to place your finger in the middle of the pad and kind of roll it to traverse the entire screen. My main problem with it was when I picked my finger up from the pad, it invariably moved the cursor. Yes, you can install apps to adjust it, but not with updates and installs disabled in gOS BETA. In windows, it becomes more manageable right out of the box, it takes about 3 swipes across the pad to clear the screen from edge to edge. Tap functionality is native, but on the default Linux sensitivity, I wouldn’t recommend it. On the second tap you will invariably move the cursor a good 3 inches across the display.

Yes, that is a quarter. It is that small.

Wireless – Where to begin? It has the Realtek RT8187 chipset built in. This, hardware wise, is not a bad chipset. The support, however, is terrible. If you check your driver blacklist in Linux, you will probably find 3 or 4 drivers for this hardware already blacklisted. The default driver assigned to the interface in gOS is passable. It can connect to networks, even WPA, but the connection is sketchy at best. I found the connection mostly reliable when within 10-15 feet of my router (Keep in mind, I have an external Realtek USB card [similar chipset] on a windows media station over 40 feet away that connects like super glue). Even when connected, it would drop the connection, but still display connectivity. So I tried Ndiswrapper with the windows drivers provided on the Sylvania website. It upped my range by about 5 feet, but lost WPA support. Had to switch Network-Manager for WICD and gained back my WPA, but lost ability to connect to unsecured connections. Dropped connections still displaying connectivity never changed. Needless to say, it will require some serious wizardry if you plan to get the card fully functional in Linux – not for the faint of heart.

It wouldn’t be fair to judge the machine based on poor driver choices in a BETA Linux distro, so I installed Windows on the machine to test the chipset under a supported environment. The provided Sylvania drivers still proved troublesome, so I went to the source. Realtek’s drivers on their support page, however, were out of date. It took some googling, but I eventually found the newest version, which works like a dream. Massive range, solid connection. Three drivers for the same chipset before it functions in Windows, though? Really? This is some poor company support all around.

Bios – Surprisingly adequate bios. When designing a machine without a CD-drive, the need to boot from USB cannot be overstated. The ability to boot from the SD slot is just a gift. A warning: When you first boot a new OS off a CD, the MBR will mess with you. I had to format the drive into FAT before continuing with the install.

Hard drive – 30 gigs isn’t bad. The drive is “easy” to change, if you’re not afraid of screwdrivers and dissecting a 300-dollar piece of hardware. If you do install a new OS (I don’t know why you wouldn’t), I recommend a small one. Slackware and Puppy Linux ran well on it, albeit with the same wireless problems and the openchrome via driver for video. XFCE is a wonderful window manager on this machine, if you are determined to make this a Linux Netbook.

Windows is a massive bloat on this machine. A typical XP install is between 3 and 4.5 gigs. I heartily recommend getting nLite and making your own trimmed-down version of Windows. I used a Lite version designed for the Asus EeePc – full install between 750 MB and 1 gig. Once I installed all of Office 2007, I barely topped 2.7 gigs.

Default Gos
My current system, running XP.

Sound -The two speakers are mounted directly under the LCD, providing sound on par with the EeePC’s speakers mounted to either side. They are stereo, and about the size of 2 postage stamps; the sound is as good as can be expected. I can find no information on who produced the hardware, and short of opening the machine, I probably won’t be able to get you range specs.

The sound card is another matter altogether. It works in Linux with no problems, the ALSA Mixer controls are great. The Fn+F# hotkeys even work to control sound. In Windows, I am yet to get sound configured. If anyone has found a way, let me know. Strangely, the drivers provided by Sylvania do not even allow the computer to register that there is a sound card present in the machine. This is a major downfall for the Windows install.

**Fixed** <All drivers for this computer MUST be installed after service pack 2.  Any beta versions of SP3 will destroy them and render most hardware non-working.  If you only have service pack 1 installed, you will get bizarre errors, also.  > **Fixed**

Battery -battery life is substantial. I tend to average around 3.8 hours with wireless on, 4.7 and some change with it turned off (Of course this is with the system idling). The battery is the only part of this system that does not feel completely solid. It has a little wiggle in it, even when fully locked in place. Not detrimental, but not the best fit either. This is the only piece of the machine does not feel completely bulletproof, and it bothers me enough to show you this picture:

That's how much play is in the battery, but only on one side.

DC Connector – Loose power connections on a laptop are the worst. That is no fear with the G Netbook. Its connector is so tight it is almost frightening. I’m afraid I’m going to just snap the connector off the Motherboard. This hasn’t happened, yet, so I will assume that it is attached on the inside with more than just 2 micro solders. The choice for an “L” shaped connector I find awkward, because if the L bends towards you, it blocks the USB ports. An “In Line” connector would have made a much more functional choice. If you’re an at home modder, though, go ahead and change it.

Summary

The machine is a great set of hardware for the price. The support for it, however, leaves so much to be desired that it is almost ridiculous. If you’re a Linux wizard and want a machine to tinker with that has almost unlimited potential (for the hobbyist) as a netbook, it’s a great buy. Despite my hatred for Windows, I have to recommend it as an alternative to the default Gos. It makes a far superior use of the provided hardware. For the money, I feel it’s the best deal on the market (for a ballpark 300, I wouldn’t pay too much more than that). If you can’t abide the hassle of customizing the system to your own needs, check out an EeePc. [If anyone would like to donate one, I would gladly review it side by side… <wink wink, nudge nudge>]

A better solution to Presentations in Linux

You may have noticed that OpenOffice is great. You also may have noticed that this greatness runs out when you get to Impress. My primary complaint (Oh there are many, most of them “known issues” at the open office site for years) is a lack of anti-aliasing on shapes. In a business situation, a presentation on par with the expectations of 1995 will only get you so far.

A Circle in Impress
Jaggies...a lot of them
A Circle in Powerpoint
Same 200% zoom as Impress.

I in no way endorse the use of PowerPoint, but I haven’t had a [Professional] alternative. I acquired a new Linux-based laptop and just today realized that I wouldn’t be able to give presentations off it without jumping through hoops. Of course there are options (PDF slide viewers, LaTEX, etc.) but I want a straight-forward presentation program that meets my meager demands of Anti-Aliasing and a simple interface. Luckily, I tend to have an active Internet connection at most presentations. This brings me to: 280 Slides.

280 Slides is a WebApp that provides, nearly, full functional slide show creation.

A Circle in 280 Slides
200% Zoom
200% Zoom

It’s still in BETA, but it shows amazing promise. Registration is free, and as far as I can tell so far, it beats Google’s presentation ability by a long shot. I wonder how long before Google acquires them…

The Good:

  • Accessible on any OS from any computer with an active Internet connection.
  • Ability to save sideshow in .pptx, .ppt, .odp, and .pdf
  • Fairly faithful conversion to previously mentioned file types.
  • Ability to Import from uploads of the previously mentioned file types (sans .pdf).
  • Ability to insert Images, Video, Shapes, etc. You can even upload your own shapes.
  • Many themes included, all classier than some of PowerPoint’s ugly templates, or the 2 ridiculous themes that ship with Impress.
  • Ability to add “Notes” to each slide.
  • Straight forward, intuitive interface.
The Interface
The Interface

The Bad:

  • Currently no way to upload your own custom background image. Work Around: Insert it as an image and make it the size of the slide.
  • No transitions. In a serious presentation, however, do you really need objects flying in and spinning with cute sound effects? Only if you want to get laughed at.
  • No way to operate a “Presenter View.”
  • No “Master Slide” for objects and footers that are persistent across all slides.

Overall:

-This will be my new presentation software when I’m bound to my Linux system. If I have access to a Mac, though, I will use Keynote for its powerful elegance. I’m interested to see where this goes when it reaches full release. Hopefully registration will stay free.

-At a later date, I will be comparing 280 Slides to Slide Rocket (http://www.sliderocket.com/).  By “at a later date” I mean when Lan Support Services feels the need to update the flash on my office computer.  Feel free to check it out as another alternative.  [Thanks to Brian for pointing me to Slide Rocket]

Note Taking Software for Linux (A Review of NoteCase)

**UPDATE**  This review is of the current build in the Ubuntu Repos, which the author of the software has notified me is out of date, for the most recent release (With several of these issues addressed), download one of the precompiled binaries (available for most any systems) from their website.**UPDATE** (Thanks again for this information).

I believe many people choose to use Linux on their laptops for the simple reason that it works, and works well on low-powered machines. As a student, a low-power machine is the only viable option. Also, as a student, good note-taking software is a must. Before I switched over to Linux, I was an MS OneNote guy. Let me begin by saying that there is no direct equivalent…yet.

The most viable solution currently is NoteCase. While OneNote is like a Nasa-Grade Swiss Army Knife, NoteCase is the scalpel. It does one thing real well, but you wouldn’t want to open a bottle of wine with it. It takes notes, organized in a hierarchical tree and saves them as a single file.

**Edit** This review applies only to the Non-commercial version of the software.  The author of the software has informed me that the program is substantially more robust and powerful in the commercial version.  **Edit**

Let’s Talk Strengths

  1. The interface is very intuitive. You have seen these buttons before. It only takes a minute to figure out how to insert images, or bold text.

  2. Multiple ways to accomplish most tasks. Adding new child nodes can be done by right-clicking in the tree column, or by a pull down for those who like to keyboard and use ALT. I rarely touch the mouse while taking notes.

  3. Very customizable interface. You can set a default text color, size, background, etc. and it will be persistent. You can even set it to open the same file automatically when the program opens. For a student who only needs their single NoteCase file that has a parent node for each course and a child node for each day’s notes, the immediacy of opening the program and being greeted by the last document you used is highly efficient.

  4. Autosave. This is priceless, especially if you are on cruddy battery power that could fail on you at any time. You can set how often it saves.

  5. Autobackup. You choose how many different backup files it saves and where it saves them.

  6. Links. You can add links directly into the document with the push of a button.

  7. Very Low Resource Requirements. This program runs like a champion on a 512 meg, 1.7ghz processor. You could probably open 50 windows at once (Haven’t tried this, but you know what I mean).

  8. Solid Code. I have not had a single crash in over 3 weeks of avid daily use. I’ve inserted Images, Links, and a variety of lengths of text.

  9. Export Function. HTML, TXT, or a stand alone Executable.

Let’s Talk Weakness

  1. Weak font features.

    -Features you have: Bold, Italic, Underline, Strike-through, Text color, Background color.

    -Features it lacks: FONT SIZE. This is a major weakness, but not a deal breaker.

  2. Weak image control features on inserted images.

    -Features you have: Insert PNG or JPG. Resize them at moment of import.

    -Features you lack: Ability to resize post import. Anchor Points (The image is inserted as a giant letter, displacing all text around it.) No option for “Text Surround” of the image. No support for GIF.

**Edit**  Thank you to the author of the software for informing me that this program supports import for any GTK supported Images formats. **Edit**

3. Not enough Export Features. HTML and TXT are great, but I would love a direct to PDF for the sake of universality.

User Options

The User Options are very informative about the limited but powerful potential of the program.

Summary

This program does exactly what it claims to do: Let you take an almost unlimited number of notes, organize them in a tree, and keep them in a single file, or “Case.” It never claims to be a powerhouse, and I think when we meet its limitations we should be asking ourselves if we really want it to be bogged down and bloated by a solution to every situation. Most importantly, it is a rock solid program. I’ve tried to crash it and failed. I would like a few of the smaller features that lacks to be added at a later date, but I don’t feel it needs much more. The font size issue is a big deal, but I feel it’s only a matter of time (as you can change the font size program wide, just not a single word).

If you find yourself with a few too many TXT files of varying types and sizes you should look into this program for precise, near surgical organization.

For installation, I can attest that it is in the Ubuntu Repos. This means that if you run any *Buntu derivative you have access to it (Gos, Mint, etc.). If you use a non-Ubuntu distro please let us know if it is in your Repo.

Sorry Windows and Mac users, this program is only available for Linux. Correction: packages are available for Windows (may require GTK), Mac OS X, and even Open Solaris (thanks Michael!). For non-OSS alternatives to those on Windows and Mac, check out OneNote one Windows, or OMNIoutliner for Mac. I’ve used both and they are startlingly, almost frustratingly bulging with features (and will leave your wallet startlingly not bulging with money).