Category Archives: Software

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.

Installing MODx (MODx Series Part III)

Here’s a video of me installing the MODx content management system. In case it wasn’t clear why I was doing this series, I REALLY like MODx and I find it the easiest CMS to work with both as a PHP developer and as a front-end designer. The video is my small contribution to make it easier to install this nifty CMS, and sometimes less is more. There are already a lot of high quality resources available for anyone who wants to try out this CMS. See the references below.

A video used to be embedded here but the service that it was hosted on has shut down.

References

There are already a lot of resources available to help people install MODx. Here is a list of what I feel are the most useful:

Download MODx here: http://modxcms.com/downloads.html (obviously, you need to be able to download it before you do anything else)

Official Documentation: http://modxcms.com/installation-and-configuration.html

Wiki: It’s a wonderful resource with a whole section for installation. http://wiki.modxcms.com/index.php/Category:Installation

Bob’s Guides: http://bobsguides.com/installing-modx.html — Bob is very active in the MODx forums and he knows what he’s talking about.

Bits of Wisdom

  • Write down your database name, user, and password. These are the 3 keys to the kingdom that many CMS applications depend on. If you ever forget a password or get into some sort of trouble with the app, you’ll need this information. I recommend storing it in a safe place, as discussed by one of our previous articles on KeePass
  • Install the Sample Web Site. Yes, if it’s your first time, you can learn a lot by looking through how the sample site works. Go ahead and break it. Demolish it. It’s really easy to install it again.
  • Visit the Wiki. Some people (including myself) have spent hours creating pages with details and instructions for overcoming a number of problems. The MODx Wiki lives here.

Problems Installing MODx

Nearly all the problems I’ve had in the 20 or 30 MODx installations that I’ve done have stemmed from webserver permissions. Basically, Apache needs to be able read every file and write to certain directories. MODx is very verbose about which files and directories it wants to see, so this is usually easy to fix.

The other problems I’ve run into have only been on dedicated servers that I setup. I’m not a Linux guru (well, except in those really wild fantasies where I’m on a Lear jet with scantily clad foreign courtesans), so some of these “problems” are more like “no-sh*t-Sherlock” annoyances for those with more experience, but they’ve boiled down to simply installing the correct PHP modules.

Who.hasfiles Updates, Enables Web Sharing

Who-hasfiles web sharing The free remote file storage service – Who.hasfiles.com – has recently updated to include web sharing and hosting capabilities. We’ve written about Who.hasfiles.com before.

Essentially, Who.hasfiles offers 100 MB of free online storage. No, that’s not a whopping amount of space by any means, but what sets them apart is the manner in which you access it. Who.hasfiles allows for remote drive mapping from your operating system, all without installing anything. Your 100 MB of storage simply shows up as another disk or as a remote folder.

They have instructions for mapping the drive in Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

Web Sharing

The new feature that they are rolling out is the ability to share and hotlink files over the Web. Setting it up couldn’t be simpler. All you have to do is create a folder called web in the root of your storage space.

Who-hasfiles web folder

Anything you put inside the web folder is directly accessible on the Internet. Whoever access the link to your web folder will see a list of all your shared files. Speaking of which, the link to your web folder is as follows:

http://your-user-name.hasfies.com/web

People who access the link to your web folder will see a list of all your shared files. It’s great for quick-and-dirty file sharing.

Who-hasfiles - habibbijan web

File/Web Hosting

Another use for the Who.hasfiles web folder is direct linking (hotlinking) to files. For starters, you can upload your own index.html file if you don’t want people to see everything in your web folder. Heck, you can even build a small website with only static files (sorry, no PHP here).

A much more powerful use, though, is embedding files directly in blogs or forums. One area where this can be greatly useful is if you have a Blogger account or WordPress.com blog. Neither of those sites allow you to upload audio files, so this is another great way to get around Blogger’s upload limitations.

As you might expect, all you have to do to link directly to a file in your Who.hasfiles.com account is to first make sure that file is inside your web folder. Next, just type the full path to the file, like this:

http://your-user-name.hasfiles.com/web/name-of-file.pdf

In my case, I want to directly access that MP3 file in the picture above. For me to do so, all I have to do is type:

http://habibbijan.hasfiles.com/web/bondari-demo.mp3

Try it! In this manner, you can link to specific files from Blogger, WordPress.com, online forums, or from anywhere else you want. Hint: I suggest leaving all filenames lowercase and omitting spaces to avoid link frustrations.

I don’t know yet if Who.hasfiles imposes any bandwidth restrictions. I doubt it, especially considering that the free account only allows for 100 MB of storage. If someone from the company could comment, we all would appreciate it.

As we’ve mentioned before, you don’t get much space with Who.hasfiles, but we love how convenient it is to map a remote drive from any operating system. Just think of it like a remote USB flash drive from 2003. The addition of file hosting (and direct linking) is a welcome update.

Get 100 MB free at Who.hasfiles.com.

New Overview of MODx (MODx Series Part II)

A while back I did a brief overview of the MODx content management system. Well, I was asked to do a high-resolution video so you can see what the manager interface looks like and you can get an idea of why you might want to choose the MODx content management system for your next web site.

A video used to be embedded here but the service that it was hosted on has shut down.

Overview

Publish/unpublish a document by right-clicking the document:

Right-click a document to edit it
Right-click a document to edit it

You can set publish/unpublish dates by changing the Page Settings:

Set the Publish/Unpublish dates in the Page Settings tab
Set the Publish/Unpublish dates in the Page Settings tab

Build your own templates or use existing CSS and HTML by adding simple placeholders to the code. Just paste the HTML page into a new Template.

Sample of a MODx Template:


<html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
<head>
<title>[*pagetitle*]</title>
<meta name="description" content="[*description*]">
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" />
<link type="text/css" media="screen" rel="stylesheet" href="/assets/templates/uncomplicated/style.css" />
<base href="/"/>
</head>
<body>
<h1>[*longtitle*]</h1>
[*content*]

Where you put the [*placeholders*] is somewhat arbitrary, but the above example is how I usually put together my templates. It’s just important to remember how the substitution works. The text in the “Title” field will replace the [*pagetitle*] placeholder tag.

Here’s a graphic I made to demonstrate how the values in the editor are substituted any instances of the placeholders in the template. MODx offers the easiest templating I know of. Stay tuned for a hi-res video illustrating how you can take an existing HTML/CSS layout and turn it into a MODx template… for now, only the low-res video is available.

MODx uses simple placeholders for templates
MODx uses simple placeholders for templates

MODx also allows you to add custom fields to any document, but that’s a more advanced topic… stay tuned.

Requirements

The requirements for MODx are quite similar to the requirements of other CMS’s.

  • PHP (4.4.x or above)
  • MySQL (4.1 or above)
  • Apache with mod_rewrite (used for friendly URLs)

Advantages

  • Document Tree. Using other CMS’s it can be difficult to locate content. “Where was that legal notice? I know the URL, but I just can’t find the content to edit it!” MODx makes it easy to find and edit your content.
  • Isolation of Responsibilities. It’s very simple to isolate roles so a team can work on a site: content folks can login to the manager and edit content, front-end designers can build HTML and CSS templates that integrate EASILY into MODx without a steep learning curve, and PHP developers can write code, and each of these separate groups can work in their respective areas with very simple overlaps.
  • Simple Templates. There are no special logical tags to learn for templates; PHP scripts can be saved directly in the database and called from any document. Not all CMS’s provide this kind of isolation, and no other CMS makes it as easy to use existing HTML and CSS layouts.
  • Dynamic Menus. They make it easy to move content around your site, and menus will generate themselves automatically!
  • Speed. All CMS’s are slower than a static site, but MODx is one of the faster CMS’s that I’ve seen using load time benchmarking.
  • Small database footprint. You can get a hundred pages on your site and end up using only a few megabytes in your database. Other CMS’s use much more space in the database.
  • Extendable! It is insanely simple to add existing PHP scripts to MODx.

Limitations

As much as I like MODx, it may not be the best choice for your particular needs.

  • 5000 page limit. The new version of MODx will support more, but if you have more than 5000 pages on your site, MODx may not be for you. There are work-arounds, however…
  • Open-Source. If you are in a corporate environment and you NEED to have someone on-call for help resolving technical problems, then you should probably look for a different CMS. MODx is open-source. The forums are a great place to get help, but there is no dedicated support staff.
  • Versioning. Some CMS’s offer rollback features for the content in your templates or posts (similar to giving you levels of “un-do”), but the current version (0.9.6.3) does not offer this by default. You can add this functionality, but it is not built-in; it is slated to be included in the next version of MODx

Summary

I hope that the video gives you an idea of what this content management system looks like. Hopefully you can see how you might use it for one of your own projects. Don’t forget the MODx Wiki and the MODx forums for additional resources. Stay tuned for more videos.

Batch Image Resize in Vista with Image Resizer Powertoy Clone

Back in the days of XP, Microsoft released a great set of tools they called Powertoys.  Potentially the most useful of these being a shell addition that allowed you to right click on a set of selected images and resize them.  Like a lot of people, I figured this function would just be built into Vista…  It’s not.  Also, there is currently no Vista Powertoy that has the same function (There may be, at a later date – I’ve heard rumors of several in development).  But what to do until then?

A wonderful little program has been developed that emulates the identical functionality of the XP resizer Powertoy, on Vista.  It’s called the “Image Resizer Powertoy Clone.” Best news:  It’s open source and free.

You can grab it at Here.

To use it, all you have to do is highlight the images you want to resize, right-click, and select Resize Pictures.  You will then receive a dialogue window prompting you to choose a size from the most common, or you can click Advanced for more control.

It will not overwrite the images. Instead, it will rename the copy to have the image size after the original file name.

Content Management Systems (Prelude to MODx): Part I

Introduction to Web Sites, CMS’s, and MODx

MODx lets you take control...
MODx lets you take control...

Some of you may remember the little article I wrote a while ago about content management systems where I shared a bit about MODx. What is MODx? (pronounced like “modular”… and it’s eXtendable… get it?) It’s a content management system (CMS), and it’s used to help you manage and publish web sites easily. It’s very cool, and it is very flexible… but I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to spend some time with our readers and talk a bit about web sites and CMS’s and use that discussion to segue into an upcoming video series about MODx. If you already know what MODx is and you want to learn about it, stay tuned for the upcoming videos… if you want to read a nice walk-through, check out NetTuts recent article.

Web Sites 101

If you’re reading this, you should have some idea of how this is happening… in the interest of the stringent word count limitations imposed by… uh… Brian (?)… I’m going to assume that you understand the concepts of a domain name, a web server, and how a traditional request such as “http://www.tipsfor.us/some_page.html” is handled and a page is read and returned to your browser. You with me? Great.

Higher Education: Dynamic Web Sites

A static site grabs a file from a folder and displays it to the browser, whereas a dynamic site operates a bit more like the “printing on demand” technology. Many sites (including this one) rely on dynamic technology to serve up a page… the page that you are requesting may not even exist until you request it. The “page” that you end up reading is often assembled on the fly from a series of scripts and bits of text from the file system and/or from a database.

Making Web Sites: The Perils of Static Sites

Coding Sites by Hand is Perilous
Coding Sites by Hand is Perilous

We all start out bald and naked, filling diapers and making static web sites. As you get older, you learn a little more HTML, and your “<h1>Hello World</h1>” progresses to animated GIFs and maybe some CSS and Javascript, but some people take a long time to mature out of static web development. And not unlike growing up and leaving home, there’s a profound turning point in your web education that propels you out of static land. Let’s say you want to change the name of one of your pages from “articles/cool-stuff.html” to “articles/archive/cool-stuph.html”. You have to move the document and change its file name, then you have to wade through all the pages on your site and update any links or menus. It’s only palatable if you have a few pages. If you have more than 10 or so, this scenario quickly becomes cumbersome and prone to error… you’ll be wanting to ask mom to do your laundry.

Another not-so-hypothetical situation arises when you want to change the look and feel of your static site. If you’ve followed the rules of semantic web development, you’ve separated your content from its formatting using CSS files and well formed HTML (check out CSS Zen Garden), but it can still be tricky if you’ve got to change Javascript files to make menus work. And you still have to know a lot about HTML and FTP logins to make these changes.

Enter Content Management Systems

If your own learning curve of web site development has roughly followed the previous descriptions, then you can appreciate that someone found a better way to do things. You can have your cake and eat it too.

Benefits to using a CMS

  • — Isolates content from formatting (it’s much easier to search content and update templates)
  • — Editing content is easily done via a GUI
  • — Roles and permissions can be established: e.g. an editor, an admin, a blogger all can be allowed to do certain things to a site.
  • — Links between documents can update automatically (with most CMS’s)

A CMS allows you to forgo the FTP client and use a front-end interface so that users can edit documents and templates. A CMS usually has editing tools built right in, so you don’t even need to know HTML to edit the content of a page — this is great if you’ve built a site for someone else. You can be the HTML genius, but you can give them the key to the CMS and they can edit and add content all day long. Finally, a CMS provides the ultimate separation between content and its formatting. This means that the text of an article can be fully isolated from the template used to display that article, and then the task of switching layouts for an entire site of thousands of pages becomes a trivial affair. Changing the “location” of a file or its name is also dynamically rendered so it can be done in an instant. These are the benefits to running a site using a CMS.

Down Sides to CMS

  • — Complicated to set up. Math is hard! Let’s go to the mall!
  • — It’s more resource intensive. Serving up flat files is much easier for the web server.
  • — More complicated server requirements: not all hosts will have a scripting language and database available to you.
  • — More bandwidth is required.

A site running a CMS is almost never as responsive as a site simply serving up static files. A CMS has many more moving parts, so it’s more likely to break or be attacked. You can’t do much to thwart the display of a simple HTML file, but you can experience all kinds of malicious attacks on a database an your scripting language of choice.

In my opinion, in most circumstances, the benefits often far outweigh the drawbacks. You make some extra backups, you take a few extra precautions, and bamm… you can be pimping out your web site in CMS style, and once you’ve done it that way, you’ll never go back.

So now you know why you might want to use a CMS for web site development. In the next article, I’ll discuss why you might want to choose MODx over some of many other systems available. Lots of systems will alleviate some of the pain and stress of static development, but not all Content Management Systems are created equally. The dudes working hard on MODx have made a really cool application that makes life so much easier for developers and content editors, and one of the founders asked me to upload some high resolution videos about it. Thanks guys. Stay tuned…

Turn Windows Server 2008 into an Excellent Workstation – Part II – Third Party Software

Welcome to the second part of our series on turning Windows Server 2008 into an excellent workstation. If you missed it, please see Part I – The Basics as well as how to get Server 2008 for free (students only).

In this post we will take a look at some third-party software and its compatibility with Server 2008. In no way is this post comprehensive, but it should get you started in figuring out if your software is compatible. When possible, I tried to stick with free software.

This article is from an x86 (32-bit) perspective, though I doubt the x86-64 version differs much. I welcome any and all additions in the the comments below.

Free Security Software

Unless you like living dangerously, you should run antivirus software on your Windows machine. As I’ve written before, I prefer free antivirus software. Unfortunately, not all free antivirus programs will install on a server operating system. While there may be some registry tweaks or other hacks that will allow them to install, I’m not comfortable living with that. Who knows when an update may break compatibility or functionality?

Below are free antivirus and security programs that I have personally verified.

  • AVG Free Editiondoes not work
  • Avast Home Editiondoes not work
  • ClamWinWORKS
  • Comodo Internet Securitydoes not work
  • Malwarebytes’ Anti-MalwareWORKS
  • PC Tools Free AntiVirusWORKS
  • Returnil Virtual System 2008 Personal EditionWORKS
  • Rising AntivirusWORKS

Google Software

All Google software that I have tried installs and works as expected.

  • Google DesktopWORKS
  • Google Earth 4.3WORKS
  • Google Picasa 3WORKS
  • Google SketchUp 7WORKS
  • Google TalkWORKS

Browsers

Good news! All common web browsers that I have tried work without flaw.

  • Firefox 3WORKS
  • Google ChromeWORKS
  • Opera 9.6WORKS
  • Safari 3.2WORKS

Free Media Players

Continuing our good luck streak, every media player that I have tried (so far) works without known issues.

  • Foobar 2000 v0.9.6WORKS
  • iTunesWORKS
  • J. River Media Jukebox 12WORKS
  • MediaMonkey 3.0.6WORKS
  • Quicktime 7WORKS
  • Songbird 1.0WORKS
  • VLC 0.9.8WORKS
  • Winamp 5.5WORKS

Office Applications

Almost every office-type application that I tried works without flaw. Fortunately, both MS Office 2003 and 2007 work fine, since that would be a deal-breaker for most people.

  • AbiwordWORKS
  • Adobe Reader 9WORKS
  • Lotus Symphony 1.2does not work – (It installed correctly on my machine, but would not launch a new document, spreadsheet, or presentation. It it works for you, please let me know.)
  • Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007WORKS
  • OpenOffice 3 WORKS

Other Utilities

Major victories in this area include recent updates to Skype and the Windows Live Applications that make them compatible with Server 2008.

  • 7-zipWORKS
  • CCleanerWORKS
  • FilezillaWORKS
  • Jing ProjectWORKS (only after you enable .NET 3.0 – see Part I)
  • Microsoft Virtual PCWORKS
  • SkypeWORKS – (Version 4 BETA works fine. Version 3 was troublesome, though version 3.8.0.139 and later may also work fine.)
  • Sun xVM VirtualBoxWORKS
  • Windows Live ApplicationsWORKS (Yes! Previous versions would not install on Server 2008, but the new updates install and work well.)
  • μTorrentWORKS

Video Games

Admittedly, I am not much of a gamer, but here are a few games that I can personally verify. I especially welcome additional contributions in this area.

  • Diablo II LODWORKS (with 1.12 patch or above)
  • Elder Scrolls IV: OblivionWORKS (with latest patch)
  • Guild WarsWORKS
  • Starcraft: Brood WarWORKS (with 1.16 patch or above)
  • Titan Quest (plus Immortal Throne) – WORKS
  • Warcraft III: The Frozen ThroneWORKS (with latest patch)

As you can see, there is far more green than red, meaning that the overwhelming majority of applications should work with Server 2008. In fact, I’d say that Server 2008 is hardly limited at all. As a general rule, if it works with Vista SP1, it should work with Server 2008. I did not mention it above, but even two professional music applications that I use all the time – Finale 2008 and Reason 4 – work without problems.

Security applications are the main exception. Unless you want to pay for a server-compatible antivirus program, I suggest sticking to PC Tools or Rising antivirus.

Games are the other category that I could not test well, but again, if it works with Vista SP1, it should work with Server 2008. If you find exceptions, or have any other comments or questions, please let me know in the comments below.