Category Archives: Software

Unlock and Delete Stuck Files with Unlocker

There’s not much more aggravating than attempting to simply delete a file, only to have Windows spit an error message back in your face.

filezilla-delete.png

When this happens, it’s usually because some program or process in memory still has an invisible tentacle wrapped around that file or folder.

Often, rebooting and trying again will solve the problem (or booting into Safe Mode), but if you don’t want to reboot, you can use Unlocker.

right-click-unlocker.png
Unlocker is a free application designed to quickly and easily remove the annoyance of stuck files from your Windows system.

Usage

Using Unlocker is easy – just right click on the stuck file or folder and choose Unlocker.

If the file is stuck, it will spawn the Unlocker Assistant and show you the process gripping your stuck file/folder.

unlocker-assistant.png

All you have to do is click Unlock All, and then try to delete the file again. Voila! The stuck file should be banished from your computer, and from your life.

Unlocker is one of those applications that should not be necessary. After all, files should just disappear when you try to delete them, right? Still, I’m glad it’s available. Version tested – 1.8.6.

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21 Awesome (But Lesser-Known) Open-Source Applications for Windows

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in Madagascar for the last few years, you undoubtedly already know about the All-Star open-source applications for Windows. I’m talking about applications such as Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, OpenOffice, and VLC.

However, there are hundreds of lesser-known but highly-useful open-source applications available for Windows. A few of my favorites are below.

These applications range from moderately popular to downright obscure, but all of them are open-source and FREE. All of them are worth the install time if you have never tried them. As a side bonus, many of them are cross-platform as well.

Here they are, in random order:

zscreen.jpg1. ZScreen

ZScreen is an open-source screen capture program that quietly resides in your system tray until needed. It can take screenshots of a selected region, the active window, or the entire screen. It can even send screen captures via FTP and copy the URL to your clipboard, all with just a single keystroke. Oh yeah, it can also interface with image editing software, such as Photoshop or Paint.net.

If you frequently take screenshots, ZScreen is light years faster than pressing Print Scrn and pasting into MS Paint.

pdfcreator-logo.png2. PDFCreator

PDFCreator allows you to create PDFs from any program that can print. Once it’s installed, simply “print” to the virtual printer that it creates, and the resulting document can be read on any computer with Adobe Reader (or comparable software).

There are several similar programs, but if you dig open-source software, PDFCreator trumps many of the others.

keepass-logo.gif3. KeePass

KeePass is one of those applications that you don’t realize how badly you need until you start using it. It securely stores and manages the login information that you use for e-mail, websites, banks, etc. Unless you always use the exact same login information (a terrible idea!), you need KeePass. It’s even available in a portable version.

I use KeePass to manage hundreds of usernames and passwords. I’d go crazy without it.

handbrake_logo.jpg4. HandBrake

HandBrake is a DVD to MPEG-4 converter that allows you to stick a DVD in your drive and have the video converted to a digital file for convenient viewing. It’s great for minimizing wear-and-tear on DVDs, plus it’s handy if you travel a lot and want to watch movies on your laptop.

For best results, use it in conjunction with DVD43. Continue reading 21 Awesome (But Lesser-Known) Open-Source Applications for Windows

Open Source TV Show/Legal Torrents

This will be a quick post. I just wanted to spread the word about a new website that is now up and hopefully will be growing:

http://beta.legaltorrents.com/

In their own words:

LegalTorrentsâ„¢ is an online community created to discover and distribute Creative Commons licensed digital media. We distribute high quality digital media of all types and provide support to content creators, including hosting a guaranteed high-speed seed for the content. We distribute content with the full permission of the rights holders. We use the peer-2-peer file-sharing technology called Bittorrent.

They are dedicated to hosting only completely legal torrents. So have no fear and download away. Of course you won’t find all that sweet illegal content that some providers have, but that is not the point of this site. Fellow Linux users should be able to see how useful this site will be for centrally locating distro cds.

I also wanted to draw everyone’s attention to a specific torrent on their site:

Go Open Ep. 1-6

This is the first 6 episodes of a television show from South Africa that is information about Open Source software, and the alternatives to closed source software. It’s free, and pretty informative, especially if you are new to the Open Source scene.

Oh, and if you liked the first 6 episodes, don’t forget: Go Open Ep. 7-13

All files are in .MP4 format. If you have a hard time opening these files [and use windows], I recommend the Combined Community Codec Pack. It is the most complete codec pack I have found yet (originally compiled to play many differant formats of anime encoded by fans with subtitles.)

In the near future I will expound about the process, software, safeguards, etc. of the torrent community.

Phinally: Photoshop Express Online

Adobe did some things good with the release of Photoshop Express. It’s a free web-based editor that offers tools for one-click cropping, color adjusting, and sharing. Pretty much, that’s all you need most of the time, and I hate to think how many pirated copies of Photoshop are out there causing the Adobe execs to lose sleep at night.

All that’s required is a login to the site. Adobe hopes to tap the shutterbug crowd posting images to Flickr and Facebook and lure them to their site as a way to share their photos. We’ll see how it goes, but it looks promising. I can’t tell how many times I’ve needed to do some basic photo editing while on the road, and it just can be painful to try and find some cheap tools to do basic editing.

What Adobe did WRONG was to put in some fine print that said that Adobe basically would get to do whatever they want with the users’ photos. Watch out! Read the article on CNET:
Complaints trigger rewrite of Photoshop Express terms. Well… I’m gonna wait for the legal @!^%-storm to pass before trying this out.

UPDATE: Adobe dropped those nasty legal terms. “If you decide to terminate your Photoshop Express account, Adobe’s rights also will be terminated.” See CNET.

Review of Safari 3 for Windows

safari_windows_screenshot.png

So Apple went on its second major foray into the world of Microsoft with its release of Safari for Windows (the first being iTunes). I’m not necessarily a connoisseur of browsers when I’m at work just trying to get things done, but right off the bat I noticed the slick implementation of Apple’s signature Aqua-style graphics. Apple didn’t settle for Microsoft’s standard clunky window buttons, and they even put in their own window scroller and check-boxes, so in my opinion, browsing the web on Windows never looked so good. In fact, in my work-crazed stupor, Apple’s faithful rendition of the Mac version of Safari easily lulled me into a blissful fantasy-world where I was working from home on my Mac… that mirage only lasted so long, though, because Windows keeps stealing my focus, its Desktop search feature can’t find its own ass with both hands, un-closed pop-ups from any application gum up the *entire* desktop (instead of just the parent application), and my soundcard driver went on the lam again. Oh, Windows, if I could kick you in the nuts… but I digress.

Safari 3 seems to work fine on the web sites I’ve been hitting for the past couple days. For example, the new Yahoo mail is not officially supported, but it seems to be fully functional with Safari 3. Likewise, I was able to run my WordPress control panel without any major issues.With most Ajax-heavy sites, basic functionality is usually there for any browser, but things around the fringes may start breaking, so I’m not terribly surprised that Safari 3 has had some trouble here… in CSS and Ajax is where the browser-specific demons lie.On another Ajax site, I did notice some broken functionality when using Safari 3, so you know those demons are out there to haunt web developers, which brings me to the crux of this review: now I have ANOTHER browser to test when coding (and IE was already a huge pain in the ass).

Safari MOSTLY follows the same rendering as Firefox, with some quirky caveats… the biggest is probably Safari’s stricter interpretation of Javascript: Safari does not tolerate the use of reserved words as Javascript variable names. Firefox does. Safari’s implementation is probably more correct (just ask any coder), but the reality is that some Javascript won’t execute in Safari. I’ve read some of the documents about how the Gecko engine should behave when handling floated elements as they come into contact with cleared items, and I became convinced that BOTH Safari and Firefox were rendering incorrectly according to w3c standards (I’ll leave IE out of that discussion entirely… except you Steve Ballmer… my shoes… need to meet your nuts). At least Safari 3 finally correctly handles the label tags for forms.The preferences are tucked away under the Edit menu. It’s a bit traumatizing not to have an application menu if you’re coming from the Mac version, but that’s more sensible than Microsoft’s ridiculous time-sucking habit of having menu items for “Customize…” and “Options…” Really…can anyone remember which is which?

Myths Debunked

  • Contrary to some inflammatory posts, the RSS reader CAN BE CONFIGURED. It is nearly identical to the Mac version, which is nice if you’re someone like me who doesn’t take the time to tweak out a separate feed reader.
  • Some other reviews of Safari 3 for Windows have reported it crashing or having really slow load times when visiting certain web sites (e.g. Microsoft.com), but I have yet to experience any of this… I mean, Windows already has a fairly high amount of background noise in this area – Firefox and IE crash on a pretty regular basis, so if this type of thing happens in Safari, I would tend to point my suspicions at the operating system. I mean, seriously… my XP machine can’t even crash without crashing. Sudo kill -9 anyone?

It’s no surprise that Apple is taking some serious flak regarding Safari’s “superior” rendering times. They gotta expect that the first thing any tech-head is going to do is to try and replicate the boastful test results, and of course some of the results are going to be proven “questionable” or dead-wrong. But hey, if you want the scientific details of how it actually performs, talk to the developers and scientists – don’t be thumping the copy of the latest ad. Check out Wired.com for some independent testing.

The only real difference I’ve noticed at a functional level is that Safari’s security seems to be tighter than IE or Firefox. We have an https page at work for an internal CRUD web app. Safari would not load it because we were using our own SSL certificate. I know our implementation of the cert is wrong, but we just hadn’t gotten around to fixing it because IE and Firefox only complained; Safari flat out refused. I guess that’s the correct thing to do, but it’s a pain.

I have to object to how Apple “distributed” Safari 3 in a decidedly “Microsoft” fashion… they bundled it on to the latest iTunes release, which has generated some warranted criticism from the CEO of Mozilla (Jobs… do you need a kick too?). But hey, we’re in the Bush-Cheney era, so go ahead and push the limits and take your chances with the law – the courts might slap your wrists in a couple years if they ever get around to it.

apple_safari_update.png

What would make me melt is if Safari got a plugin like Firebug. That little guy has saved my life as a web developer too many times to count.

Nicest Features:

— Clean Aqua style interface faithfully rendered on Windows.

— Much faster performance. I have no scientific data here, and I refuse to drink the Firefox Kool-Aid. I think IE is a pitiful attempt at a browser from a company with the resources that Microsoft has, but it’s actually Firefox that’s the biggest memory hog on my system (sorry lil’ Fire-dudes). When Firefox attempts to cache the state of every single page, my XP machine slows to a crawl, even with 2gb of memory. Safari has behaved nicely for the past 2 days with just as many tabs open, so they must be doing something better than Firefox.

Biggest Gripes:

People have flamed Safari for not having tabs enabled by default…

but maybe this was corrected, because when I installed, the tabs were enabled. Firefox didn’t have them enabled by default either for while, but it’s been a while since I’ve installed it.

Safari gives you no search box choices beyond Google and Yahoo. Hey, Apple faithfully recreated this too! Oh wait… on the Mac version you ONLY get Google… WTF? Anyhow, there are a couple ways to hack Safari’s Google search limitation on OS X (including a search-box plug-in), so presumably someone will crack this nut for Windows too. Makes you wonder what kind of weird marketing agreements are in place for the software to have that arbitrary restriction.

Editing pages in WordPress, an Ajax CMS, worked, but it had a few surprises. Safari took the liberty of injecting some formatting code into my post:

<span class=”Apple-style-span” style=”font-family: arial; font-size: 12px; line-height: 15px”>

I *hate* stuff like that. This reminds me of the little Paper-Clip guy in Microsoft Office (may he too get kicked in the groin). I don’t mind that type of functionality so long as it’s off by default.

Conclusion:

Safari 3 is not an amazing piece of software, but it may offer the home-sick Mac folks some solace. At best it’s a working browser with features comparable to Firefox for the average user; at worst it’s yet another browser for developers to consider while designing cross-platform web pages. Meh… whatever.

Foxmarks – Synchronize Bookmarks Across Multiple Computers

foxmarks_logo.pngA couple years ago I wrote about Google Browser Sync, a slick extension for Firefox that allows you to synchronize bookmarks, cookies, history, and even tabs across multiple computers.

A similiar FREE tool is Foxmarks Bookmark Syncronizer, though Foxmarks focuses exclusively on… well, synchronizing bookmarks.

I’ve been using Foxmarks for several weeks now, and it has become one of my favorite extensions for Firefox. Review version: 2.0.45

Installation and Initial Sync

Once you install Foxmarks, you will be greeted with a setup wizard.

foxmarks_setup.png

Once you create (or log into) your account, you must then make a choice. Foxmarks needs to know how you wish to handle any differences between the bookmarks already existing on your computer and those on their sever (if any).

foxmarks_initial_sync.png

Be sure to read the choices carefully! For my initial setup, the first and third options are best. For adding additional computers, I tend to use the option to keep bookmarks on the server.

After the initial sync is finished, Foxmarks will run silently in the background, keeping your bookmarks updated.

General Usage

foxmarks_icon.pngUsing Foxmarks is so easy, a drunken cockroach could do it. Quite frankly, there is very little to do. While it’s running, you will see its icon in the bottom right corner of your browser.

By clicking the icon, you can bring up the Foxmarks settings, including the advanced option to force an overwrite of bookmarks either on the server or the local computer. There’s not much else to do. If you need help, find a drunken cockroach.

Online Accessibility

This is one of my favorite aspects of Foxmarks, one that made me convert to it from Google Browser Sync. At any point, you may log into my.foxmarks.com and manage your bookmarks.

If you add, edit, or delete a bookmark on the server, Foxmarks will push it out to all of your computers the next them they sync. The control freak in me loves this ability.

my_foxmarks.png

Did you see the sharing button in the screenshot above? That’s right, you can also share specific folders of bookmarks with other people. You can share as many folders as you want in various formats, including as a web page, RSS feed, or even as a widget for your own web site or blog. Nice!

foxmarks_sharing.png

If you find yourself using multiple computers frequently (at work, at home, on the road, etc), you owe it to yourself to try Foxmarks. It’s one of my essential Firefox extensions now.

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An Overview of Free Antivirus Programs – Part X – Blink Personal Edition

Welcome to the tenth installment in our series on free antivirus programs. Be sure to also see:

  • Part I – AVG Free Edition
  • Part II – PC Tools Free Edition
  • Part III – Comodo Antivirus 2.0 Beta
  • Part IV – Avast 4 Home Edition
  • Part V – BitDefender v10 Free Edition
  • Part VI – EAV Antivirus Suite Free Edition
  • Part VII – Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
  • Part VIII – Clamwin
  • Part IX – McAfee/AOL Special Edition

Up for review today is Blink Personal Edition. Review version: 3.5.5 (Rule version 1435)

Product link: Blink Personal Edition

The Blink antivirus program is produced by eEye Digital Security, a company more well-known in the enterprise world than in the personal sector. In fact, I was not even aware that they produced a “personal” edition of their software until a reader pointed it out to me (thanks Andy!). Back in 2001, eEye was the first to discover the “Code Red” worm, and their customer list sports an impressive array of companies, including Visa, Harvard University, and the US Department of Justice.

With that in mind, let’s evaluate their free edition of Blink. Like the McAfee/AOL Special Edition, Blink Personal includes an antivirus program, anti-spyware, and a personal firewall. Be sure to download the “free” edition, and not just a trial of the professional version. Unfortunately, the free edition is only available to users in the continental USA and Canada. Other users will only receive a 30-day trial. From their website:

If you are located within the continental United States or Canada your subscription license will be valid for a period of 1 year from the date of activation. At the end of the 1 year license period, you have the option to purchase another subscription to maintain the protection you will have grown to trust.

If you are located outside of the locations noted above, you will receive a 30-day trial of Blink Personal.

Installation – In order to download Blink, you must provide an e-mail address. From what I have been reading, prior versions of Blink required product activation after installation. I am pleased that activation is no longer required. The download is hefty – weighing in at close to 44 MB.

During installation, Blink will ask for a serial number (not required). Without a serial, Blink will activate a subscription valid for one year.

blink_license.png

The verbiage on their website is confusing regarding this (my emphasis added):

At the end of the 1 year license period, you have the option to purchase another subscription….

Does this mean that one cannot simply re-register on their website in order to unlock another yearly subscription, or is this in reality only a one-year free trial? I suspect the former is the case, but I wish they would use the word “renew” instead of “purchase” if they truly intend to offer a “free” version.

A reboot is required after installation.

Interface – Blink’s interface resembles a standard Windows utility, with a navigation panel on the left and a main window on the left. While it is easy to navigate, my main complaint is that the white text on the light background is difficult to read.

blink_main.png

I like the ability to set its running mode to “silent” by right-clicking the system tray icon. This way it will not bother you if you are watching a movie or playing a video game.

blink_silent_mode.png

Updating – Almost every antivirus program I have reviewed so far includes an “update” button somewhere on the main window. Blink, unfortunately, is not one of them. This is not a big deal, but seems like a strange omission to me.

To manually check for updates, navigate to the Tools menu first.

blink_manual_updates.png

Like most every other free program, Blink includes an automatic updating feature. You may choose to have the updater check daily or only on the day/time that you specify.

blink_auto_updater.png

Footprint and Scanning – Blink’s resident scanner only occupies roughly 7 MB of RAM on my machine. When I activated a full scan, Blink’s memory usage unbelievably dropped below 5 MB! Impressive.

Blink offers three different types of scans: Quick scan, Full scan, and a Custom scan. I love the ability to set a scan priority – with the slider set to idle, I could still tell that a system scan was running, but my computer remained responsive.

blink_scan_properties1.png

With priority set to idle, Blink is no speed demon. Running a complete scan on my machine (over 400 GB of files) took just under two hours, making it slower than most competing free programs. Given the added weight of the spyware scan, this is expected (and acceptable). I did not scan with priority set to normal or high.

Curiously, Blink identified part of the open-source 7-zip application as infected with W32/Istbar.CXB. Considering that none of the other antivirus programs that I tested came to the same conclusion, I can only assume this is a false positive.

Types of Protection – The number of features offered is definitely one of Blink’s strengths. The inclusion of spyware detection and a personal firewall puts it in the same league as McAfee/AOL Special Edition. Blink includes:

  • On-access and on-demand scanners
  • Spyware detection, blocking, and removal
  • Online identity protection (anti-phishing)
  • Built-in firewall (includes stealth and passive modes)
  • Computer settings protection (protects applications and the Windows registry)
  • Missing patch protection (for media players)
  • Vulnerability assessment (an awesome tool!)

Like most programs, Blink includes a targeted scan in the “right-click” explorer menu. Performing a targeted scan is a mult-step process. First, Blink will spawn a settings window.

blink_right_click_scan_settings.png

Secondly, a scan window will open that must be closed manually, even if no threats are found. I prefer Avast’s current method – a targeted scan spawns a scanning window, but the window automatically closes if no threat is detected.

The rules-based firewall performs admirably, but will require some tinkering and training, as there are rules available for both applications and the entire system. Many common rules are already in place and can be activated or de-activated with a click of the mouse.

blink_firewall_rules.png

I appreciate the ability to create custom firewall rules with a wizard.

blink_rule_wizard.png

One delightful feature that I have not found in any other free programs so far is the ability to create a Vulnerability Report customized to your system. Upon your demand, Blink will generate a highly-detailed report categorizing any security vulnerabilities by risk (high to low). All information regarding hardware, ports, and services will be displayed.

blink_vulnerability_report.png

I’m a fairly literate guy when it comes to personal computer security, so it damages my pride to say that Blink found five “high-risk” vulnerabilities. 🙂 Fortunately, four of them were related to out-dated media players (such as Quicktime). My fifth vulnerability was related to anonymous access to the registry, something more important in a production environment than in a personal environment. Blink even offers instructions on how to fix any vulnerabilities. Nice!

EICAR TestHere 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 effectiveness 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 what Blink thinks of it.

blink_eicar.png

Blink snagged it before it could even touch the desktop. Excellent.

Final Thoughts – Blink is a competent, yet complex, tool. Like McAfee/AOL Special Edition, Blink will appeal to users who do not wish to install and maintain separate antivirus, antispyware, and firewall applications.

Blink does a lot of things well. It’s light on resources, feature-laden, and offers a massive amount of customization. Its Vulnerability Report alone is unparalleled in the free antivirus arena.

However, with power comes responsibility. Blink’s high level of customization also means that it takes a more knowledgeable user to fully harness its abilities. This is not an ideal “install and forget” security package for your grandmother, but more advanced users will appreciate the level of control given to them.

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