Category Archives: Software

Install Windows Defender on XP Without WGA Headaches

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational uses only. In no way do we condone software piracy. Readers should contact Microsoft if legitimately-licensed OEM software does not properly validate.

In a previous article I mentioned how to bypass WGA while installing Windows Media Player 11 on XP. As I stated before, I detest the abominable filth known as Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA), and I refuse to allow it anywhere near my machine.

With that in mind, it’s also possible to install Windows Defender without messing with WGA. Actually, it’s quite simple.

Step 1 – Download

First of all, download the Defender installation file. Of course, you could download it directly from the Microsoft Download Center, but that requires validation, thereby defeating the purpose. Here are direct links:

Defender 32-bit (English)

Defender 64-bit (English)

Step Two – Install

Be careful: the installation file contains another WGA check, so don’t run it yet. Instead, we’re going to install it silently using the (-qr) switch. Take note of where you downloaded the installation file. In my case, it’s on the desktop.

  1. Launch a command prompt by going to Start → Run, and typing cmd at the prompt.
  2. Navigate to the directory that contains the installation file. Since I put my file on the desktop, I only need to type cd Desktop. Press Enter.
  3. Type the name of the installation file, appending -qr to the end. In my case, it looks like: WindowsDefender.msi -qr. See the screenshot below.
  4. Press Enter and allow the installation to complete.

Voila! That’s it. Windows Defender should now be installed and will try to update its definitions and do an initial scan. Let it go.

And now the update and scan are complete!

That was easy, wasn’t it? Honestly, I don’t care much for Defender, but again, this article is for educational purposes only. One nice feature of Defender is that it provides real-time protection against malware. For an alternative program, I suggest Spyware Terminator. If you can live without the real-time protection, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is another option.

Good luck, and may your life be free from WGA and other malware forever.

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KeePass – Never Remember a Password Again

I have a confession – I can’t remember ANY of my passwords. In fact, I don’t even know my administrator login for this website! Then again, I don’t need to. The KeePass password manager handles all of it for me.

Accounts Galore

Before I begin extolling the virtues of KeePass, allow me to explain why I think a password manager is worthwhile. I can only speak for myself, but I have a ton of account information to remember. Back when the internet was young, I only had a Hotmail account (oh, and maybe a Geocities account, too). That’s it. Time marches on, and now I have login information for multiple e-mail accounts, a plethora of online storage services, several credit cards and bank accounts, and dozens of random internet services, such as eBay and Facebook.

Sure, I could use the same usernames and passwords for every site, but that’s a terrible idea. You’re literally putting all your eggs in one basket, and if your information is compromised, it could spell disaster for you across the Web.

Using different login information for each site is a much smarter idea, though it also means that you have to remember all of it! While I consider myself a competently-intelligent fellow, I welcome the assistance of a password manager in recalling all my various usernames, passwords, and security questions.

KeePass Rules

I started using KeePass about six months ago, and quite frankly, I’ve fallen headfirst in love with it. First of all, KeePass is completely open-source and FREE. It’s easy to use. It’s secure. It’s portable. Best of all, you can use it interchangeably on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Heck, you can even use it on your Blackberry or Windows Mobile device!

Since I started using KeePass, I’ve changed the way I approach account creation. No longer do I have to think of a new username and password (and then figure out a way to remember it!), nor do I feel that little twinge of guilt as I recycle login information for yet another site! I’ve come to appreciate the power, versatility, and convenience KeePass has given me.

Convinced yet? Let’s talk about basic setup and usage.

Setting up KeePass

To begin using KeePass, you first need to create a new database in which to store your entries. From the File menu, choose New…. A window will spawn, prompting you to create a master password.

The master password is the only password you absolutely MUST remember. Without it, you will not be able to access any of your other passwords. It is truly one password to rule them all, and in the database BIND THEM! Create as strong a password as you can remember.

Once your master password is set, let’s add some individual entries. The main interface of KeePass separates passwords Groups on the left and Entries on the right. Here’s what it looks like on my computer:

To add an entry, go the the Edit menu and choose Add Entry (or just press Crtl + Y). A new window will spawn like this one shown here:

Fill in the necessary information, including the password (press Shift + Home to clear the password field), and then press OK when done. Be sure to add a URL if appropriate. Also note the attachment option near the bottom. If a web site has security questions (most banks do this), I often take a quick screenshot of the questions and answers, then attach the picture to the KeePass entry.

Congratulations, you now have a new entry. But what can we DO with it? Now we’re getting to the good part.

Using KeePass

The sheer amount of features that KeePass offers makes it infinitesimally cooler than typing all your passwords into a text document. Let’s try a few:

Right-click on that entry you just created and feast your eyes on the options. With a simple keystroke, you can open the URL that you provided. Don’t feel like typing the password when logging into an online banking session? No problem. With another keystroke, KeePass will temporarily copy your password to the clipboard, allowing you to paste it into the appropriate web site. Worried that someone will come along behind you and try to paste again to discover your password? Have no fear, KeePass securely shreds that information seconds after the first paste. Cool!

Don’t like keystrokes? No problem! KeePass features excellent drag-and-drop support. From the main interface, you can simply click-and-drag the username and password fields to the appropriate place on the website, and KeePass will fill them in appropriately!

Here’s a little flash video that I made to demonstrate the dragging and dropping capabilities:

Screencast – Dragging in KeePass

In that video, you can see me dragging the username and password field to gain access to myBloop. Slick, huh?

The drag-and-drop options (plus the keystroke ability) provide added security against keyloggers. I spent several weeks in Europe this past summer, and I have an inherent distrust of public Internet cafes. Who knows if someone has surreptitiously installed some software to record every keystroke pressed on the keyboard? Perhaps I’m paranoid, but I solved the problem by running KeePass from a USB flash drive at all Internet cafes, leaving no trace behind me.

Another cool feature of KeePass is the password generator. I use it for almost all new accounts, but especially with certain sites that I do not trust very much (such as eBay).

When I say that I don’t know my current passwords, I mean it! Almost all of them are generated. Don’t worry, you can always use the reveal option in KeePass to see the actual password.

Storing the Database

Since the database KeePass uses to store your account information is completely encrypted, you can simply e-mail the file to yourself for safekeeping. I keep the database stored on my personal computer, plus in a couple different places online. Tip: I keep my database in my Dropbox folder, meaning that it automatically syncs between my computers every time I make an update. Read more about Dropbox here and here.

A bomb could fall on my house while I’m away and I would still have all my critical account information!

For added security, you could always stuff the database into a password-encrypted archive (using something like 7-zip or IZArc) before storing it online.

Good luck, and may you soon forget all your passwords!

More information:

KeePass – First Steps

KeePass – Security

KeePass – Downloads

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I hate ID3 Tags

(A Post for the musically disaffected)

I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me, but for those meager few who don’t, this should be useful. I detest ID3 tags and library interfaces that use them. I spent hours googling for alternatives and turned up virtually nothing, except for a few people voicing their anti-ID3 tag thoughts and getting forum flamed. So I will attempt to put together some lifestyle alternatives for the ID3-hating minority.  This article is skewed towards a Windows audience, as less freedom is usually present amongst proprietary software.

Reasons Why I Have ID3 Angst

1. I’m a minorly-disorganized person who owns way too many CDs. As a result, I can rarely find the CD I want when I want it. I find it’s quicker to just download the CD than to go find the actual physical disc (In my office, in storage, in my car, etc.)

Why is this a problem? No one seems to ever be able to agree – despite internet databases – on how to spell a band’s name. If I load up my music library via ID3 tags, take a look at a few examples of what I get:

Pennywise
PennyWise
pennywise
Penny_wise
etc, etc, etc,

Don’t even get me started on bands with “The” in their name.  If all I want to do is listen to a random play-list of Pennywise’s discography I need to select 5-8 different bands. In what world is this organized? Now if I go into my music folder on my computer I find a file tree like this:

Pennywise
—Full Circle (Album)
——Songs
—Straight Ahead (Album)
——Songs.

So my computer realizes that these albums belong to pennywise and that the songs within each album folder belong to that album, so why can’t my music software recognize (I’m looking at you iTunes).

2. I have CDs I ripped in 2001. This is a problem, I also ripped them with a variety of software, and relied on file tree. ID3-guessing software – ones that use the file name to deduce – get very confused by:

-Track Number, Artist Name, Song Title, Album.mp3
-Track Number, Song title, Artist Name, Album.mp3
-etc.

Now, I could go through and fix these tags and have no complaints, but how long would that take with 105 gigs of music (Maybe 50 gigs is properly labeled).

3. Players that think they are the lord and savior of my music collection. I had heard a lot of great talk about iTunes when it first arrived on the scene. I decided to try it. Now my box sets and compilations are irreparably ruined. Example: My Queen Discography Box Set (I believe it was 15 CDs). The songs were labeled by who was in the band, featured guests, etc. This is useful meta-information when you want to know who’s involved. They were also arranged in folders by year. iTunes decided to help me out, by giving every single song its own folder as a different band. “Queen featuring (Anyone)” is apparently a different band than “Queen” or “Queen Live.” So, needless to say, my perfect chronology became 41 different bands in iTunes. Thanks.

I can actually tell which music predates my installation of the first version of iTunes, because it had the amazing task of helping me out by re-labeling every track with a track number – even if it had one already – sometimes multiple times arbitrarily. My favorite: 06_06_06_Broken_Pennywise_Fullcircle.mp3…sweet.

4. Tiny MP3 players. If I can only fit 18 tracks (usually in the form of a compilation I made) on my MP3 player, why would I want it listed as 18 separate bands in order for me to select the song I want?

Enough Complaining, now some solutions.

I’m not going to list all the wonderful software that exists (as proof of a problem) for repairing and organizing your music library – that’s a topic for another posting. Instead I’m going to tell you some work around for an ID3-tag-free lifestyle.

1. Music Player Software that support file tree interface (this is by no means a complete survey, please let me know your solution.)

  • Amarok (Linux Based)- It has a file browser, but I would not call it elegant. If you’re in linux, however, it is probably your best bet. There is sketchy and buggy implementation of Amarok in Windows via the KDE4windows project. I, personally, cannot wait for this project to reach maturity.
  • Winamp (Windows Based)- Not vanilla support however. Out of the box, it only supports “Media Library,” but there is a wonderful plugin: Dynamic Library. It isn’t free, or OSS, but it is cheap. $10 and you can be eternally freed from ID3 tags on your PC. It functions in a free mode, limiting you to only one watched directory, but if your music is in one directory only it works just fine. I don’t condone this, however, as this man is doing glorious work to free us from the confines of disorder. $10 dollars is a small price to pay, in my opinion.

Dynamic Library allows you to move files within their directory, display the live-editable file tree, drag and drop into Winamp’s playlist (you can drag any directory level, album, song, etc.), display tracks in a full directory or sub directory, etc.

I know Winamp isn’t free, either. The only major things they lock, however, are ripping and burning functions. Anyone ripping a CD, in Windows should be using something like CDex anyway. It gives you absolute freedom in your ripping options. As for burning, InfraRecorder is king.

Are there other options? Probably. None that I have managed to find, short of dragging from explorer into a play list in Quintessential player.

2. MP3 Players. Now when I’m out and about, how do I avoid ID3 tag confinement? Rockbox. Free Open Source Firmware. It functions as a file tree, and interfaces with the PC as a removable flash media.

The Good:

-Customizable. Themes, fonts, programs, icons, etc. The play screen can be customized to display/or not display album art. If you don’t like one of the numerous themes available, you can make your own. The instructions are easy to follow and provided on the website.

-File Tree. Yes.

-Sometimes increased usability. Some mp3 players that were not designed to display images can gain the ability to. Other ones, that merely have awful controls and gui for image display, gain a customizable interface.

-Open Source.

The Bad:

-Yes, you have to re-flash the firmware. I’ve installed it 3 or 4 times, if you follow the instructions you won’t brick it. At least, the odds are slim….

-It does not work on every mp3 player. It currently only works on 28 different models. This isn’t really a situation where it will probably work on your mp3 player. More like, you buy an mp3 player off their list when you break your old one by throwing it against the wall in disgust at your chaotic and nonsensical ID3 tag management.

-It doesn’t support DRM content:

No. It is highly unlikely that Rockbox will ever support playback of DRM encrypted audio files.

-Rockbox.com

Some Screens from Rockbox’s site, you can see the potential variation. (My model is not capable of screencapture, all images are (c) their owners [the theme designers and Rockbox.org] ):

So, that’s my rant.  Again, please post your own solutions or workarounds you have found.  This method is not for everyone, but hopefully this will help those who have googled repeatedly for “Music player software file tree” to no avail.

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).

Dropbox Goes Live – Free 2GB of Synchronized Storage for All!

Dropbox logo

I am pleased to report that Dropbox has fully opened to the public, no more invitations needed! A few weeks ago I reviewed Dropbox (see review) and concluded that it was the online storage service of my dreams. I still hold to that claim.

Everyone who signs up receives 2 GB of storage space. Not only that, you can easily link multiple computers to your Dropbox account and effortlessly keep your files in sync. It’s like FolderShare, but with an online backup element. Yes, it’s a dream come true. 🙂

Clients are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux (beta). There’s even an iPhone client. Here I am installing the Dropbox client on Ubuntu 8.04.

Freshly Installed

As of now, Dropbox is the free storage service that I recommend most to others. If they rollout a “Pro” version with more features and storage, I’d be tempted to upgrade. Still, the free service is excellent.

If you only use one online storage service, I heartily recommend Dropbox.

File Savr – Another Free 250 GB Storage Account?

If you missed the offer last May for 250 GB of free storage from FileDropper, you may have a second chance. A company called File Savr now has the exact same offer (free premium accounts), valid until September 15.

Signup

If you wish to grab your free 250 GB online storage, use their special link. Though they claim that the offer is for bloggers and Digg users, anyone can register.

FileSavr.com was created as a fresh alternative to sites like MegaUpload and RapidShare. Unlike those sites, we do not reel the user in and make them wait for annoying countdown timers. We do not hide the download link with aggressively placed ads. Our goal is simple, to offer the most basic file hosting and image hosting service so you can share your stuff quickly.

As a thank you to the community we are offering free accounts on FileSavr.com to bloggers as well as members of Digg, Stumble, Reddit, Mixx, Del.icio.us. To get your free account fill out the form below to receive to get $10 monthly account (250 GB) absolutely free. Accounts created before September 15th will have lifetime membership for free. If you like the service we hope you will help us with small donations via paypal.

Offer expires September 15th. WARNING: The service is very slow due to extreme demand right now.

Signing up only requires a username, password, and e-mail address. Painless.

Usage

For all intents and purposes, File Savr is EXACTLY the same as File Dropper. The offer is the same. The interface is the same. The prices are the same. Heck, the only different between the two sites is the logo. It makes me wonder why the people behind File Dropper felt the need to create a re-badged version of their existing site. Let me show you what I mean:

FileSavr Manager

File Dropper Manager

Other than logo, there is no difference. Well, I should mention that File Savr supposedly offers an upload limit of 10 GB, whereas File Dropper limits upload size to 5 GB. So, yes, there is a slight difference.

Admittedly, I’ve had trouble with File Dropper. Every time I try to upload a file larger than 500 MB or so, I receive an error and the upload fails. Perhaps it’s my Internet connection? Perhaps it’s File Dropper? Nevertheless, the result is that I’ve hardly been able to use my account.

Still, between the two, I now have 500 GB of online storage at my disposal. I only hope I’ll be able to take advantage of it.

Act now, and you too can claim 250 GB of space. Just be sure to use their special link. I only hope you’ll have better luck with uploading than I’ve had.

Get Access to Box.net Storage from Ubuntu in Seconds

I’ve had a Box.net online storage account for a few years now. While they only offer 1 GB for free, it’s handy for quickly backing up small important files, such as handouts I create for the classes I teach.

While anyone can log into the web interface at any time, it’s also possible to access your storage space through WebDAV. Here’s how to do it on Ubuntu Linux, though any GNOME-based distro should work the same way.

First, go to the Places menu → click Connect to Server. In the window that spawns, change the Service Type to WebDAV (HTTP).

Enter the following information:

  • Server: box.net
  • Folder: /dav
  • Check the Add bookmark box (so you don’t have to go through this process later)
  • User Name: (optional) enter your Box.net e-mail address
  • Bookmark name: anything you prefer

Click the Connect button, then enter your login credentials in the next window.

I suggest choosing the Remember forever option, unless you are on a shared computer. Voila! You should now have read/write access to your Box.net storage space from within Nautilus. Go ahead and try adding or deleting files.

Quick tip: You can also directly edit files on the Box.net server. In the screenshot below, I’m using OpenOffice on Ubuntu to open a document stored in my Box account.

The only quirk is that OpenOffice spawned a window asking me to provide login credentials again, but after that, it’s just like editing a document directly on your computer (albeit slower).

Tested on Ubuntu 8.04 “Hardy Heron.”

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