Tag Archives: Feature

A Very Important Program You Never Knew You Needed (RadarSync)

**–Edit:  Your personal Mileage may vary. My experience was great on an XP Pro Netbook, XP Home Compaq Laptop, and Server2008 Workstation.  Please read the comments of our community after this post before deciding if you are adventurous.  –**

Hardware driver management is not a pleasant task.  It’s painful enough finding the drivers for a system when first setting it up, especially if you have old hardware or hardware of mysterious origins.  Once this initial trial is over, it’s rare to think about updating your drivers (especially if they aren’t malfunctioning).  This, however is no excuse not to.

If you hit up any 3rd party driver download site, you will see countless ads for programs that claim to handle all of this for you, half the adds are spyware (SCAN YOUR SYSTEM NOW!!1) and the other half are very expensive and often times subscription based (Great solutions for multi-seat licenses in which you have to maintain entire networks of computers for a company, etc.).

What I’m talking about here, though, is a free program (Free version of a paid program, in which the pay version is considerably more powerful and useful, but typically more powerful than a home user needs, like most anti-virus softwares):

http://www.radarsync.com/
http://www.radarsync.com/

Now, I consider myself to be someone who takes pretty good care of their workstation, and, having just installed server 2008 on it, figured my drivers were up to date.  After the first scan, I found that about 30 of my drivers were out of date.  These weren’t basic drivers, like sound card, etc.  They were everything from my chipset to my PCI controllers on my intel board.  I did not run any pre-install benchmarks or anything fancy like that, but, after installation, I can definitely see a subtle improvement in the overall functionality of my box.

After you download the software and run the executable, you meet the usual screen:

Click Accept and you get:

Now, here is where it gets hairy.  Nothing corporate is ever free.  They will now give you a series of advertisements for various software you can install (Pretty much all benign).  The presence of these ads is what makes it possible for them to provide this software to home users for free.  Feel free (I strongly encourage it) to decline every offer.

Don’t get caught in the muscle memory of installation where you click Agree, then Install, the Next, Next, and Finish.  You will end up with 8 programs you never wanted.

The next screen to pay attention to:

Un-check Both Boxes.  They try and dupe you with the usual “Add icon to my desktop” check box you find in all installations, but this is icons for “other offers.”

On the next screen you can hit “Finish.”

Now it’s installed.  Run the program and you are greeted by:

Because it’s the free version, pretty much all you can do is click Start Now, or if you have already scanned, click My Downloads to view not yet installed but downloaded drivers.

After the scan you get this. Small pop-ups will appear from the task bar when a download finishes.  Click these to begin auto install, or wait until its all done and install through the “My Downloads” button on the first screen of the program. (Manual installs are good if you want to pick and choose what gets updated, if you know ahead of time of a potential conflict.)

I had luck with most components, but found it especially likes “Big Name” company hardware, your Intels and Nvidias. It may also offer you program upgrades, like the new version of PowerIso it offered me. Install these at your own risk (especially if you have software that makes you re-pay/re-register for large updates.)

You may occasionally see a window resembling this:

Any time you mess with drivers, creating a Restore Point is a great idea.  If you have a conflict (like the myriad of driver conflicts with XP and Service Pack 3) and your hardware becomes non-responsive you can just restore to previous configuration. This is essential, just in case something like what happened to me the other day happens to you – a driver conflict that resulted in my RAID card not functioning anymore, cutting access to my CD-Rom drives.

Now that your drivers are all updated, you can sleep better at night knowing you are getting the most out of your expensive hardware. Enjoy.

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.

Ace that Exam by Studying Flashcards Online (7 Resources)

Classes have started again at most universities, so now is the perfect time to make sure those grades don’t start slipping. While studying hard and making A’s come naturally for some people, most of us need a little help and motivation.

One of the most tried-and-true methods of studying is to create and review flashcards. While I can personally attest that flashcards have helped me pass many classes (especially Latin – semper ubi sub ubi), I hate dealing with flashcards. It seems that I’m always running out, or losing them, or maybe I can’t read what I previously wrote. It’s a mess.

Fear not. Here are seven online resources for creating and managing flashcards online. With a little luck (and some hard work), they can help you make the grade this semester.

Study Bulb logo 1. StudyBulb

Link – http://www.studybulb.com

StudyBulb describes itself as a free online collaborative community for study materials. The site launched in April 2008 and is still in early Beta. Despite their Beta status, they have a growing number of existing flashcards that you can browse, ranging from Elementary difficulty through College. Of course, you can create a free account and start contributing your own.

One handy feature of StudyBulb is the ability to copy an existing collection of cards to your own account. They also provide a mobile link to each collection for reviewing on a web-enabled mobile phone. Nice!

StudyBulb is promising, but is weak on content right now. The interface is simple and slick, so I hope they continue to grow.

Try it now: Test your knowledge of the King Arthur legend.

Quizlet Logo 2. Quizlet

Link – http://quizlet.com

Quizlet is a popular free online flashcard portal with a number of features. Originally created in 2005 by a lone high-school student with the purpose of making French vocabulary more fun, Quizlet has since grown into a massive site with millions of existing flashcards. Naturally, you can create a free account and start your own collections.

To aid the learning process, Quizlet offers five different review modes, ranging from the simple Familiarize mode to the more fun and strenuous Scatter and Space Race modes. Nothing strains your knowledge like quickly typing answers to overhead flying questions, I suppose.

Other neat features include flashcard sharing (Facebook included) and the ability to add friends and classmates to study groups (public or private). Quizlet can also track your study progress with accuracy scores.

Quizlet is impressive, for sure. Once their iPhone app works out some kinks, it will be even better.

Try it now: Test your knowledge of European capitals.

Study Stack logo 3. Study Stack

Link – http://www.studystack.com

Study Stack offers a number of creative ways to help memorize information. Though the foundation of the site is built around flashcards, Study Stack allows you to test yourself in some engaging and unusual ways. Getting tired of traditional flashcards? Try reviewing your material as a hangman game, or maybe a word search. You can even play a game of bug match, in which you maneuver a rather happy spider across the screen in an attempt to catch the bug that represents the correct answer. Think of it as multiple choice, but with… bugs and spiders. Hey, whatever helps you learn….

Study Stack - Bug Match

If your mobile phone supports Java, you can export data to it for review on the go. Study Stack has a decent amount of existing material, but you can always create a free login and contribute your own.

Try it now: Need to do some review for the A+ Certification Exam?

Flashcard Exchange logo4. FlashcardExchange

Link – http://www.flashcardexchange.com

FlashcardExchange proudly boasts that it is the world’s largest flashcard library. That may be true, considering that the current flashcard count is approaching 17 million. It’s also one of the oldest (launched in 2001). However, it’s also one of the only flashcard sites that separates free from premium services.

A free membership will allow you to create unlimited flashcards, plus the ability to study and share them online. That’s about it. A premium membership adds such necessary features as the ability to print and export flashcards to Word or Excel.

To be fair, a premium membership is only a one-time fee of $20 USD, and it does add some other handy features, such as the ability to add pictures (jpg) and audio (mp3) to your flashcards. It’s up to you to determine if $20 is worth it. I’m glad to see that they offer support for the iPhone and iPod Touch, even for free members.

FlashcardExchange is indeed massive, and they have some nice features. I dig the keyboard support for manipulating cards. If you spring for the premium membership, there’s not much you can’t do. Otherwise, the free version is handicapped.

Try it now: Test your knowledge of the Greek alphabet.

Studyblue - logo5. Studyblue

Link – http://www.studyblue.com

Created in 2006, Studyblue aims to be much more than just a flashcard review site. While flashcards are certainly an integral part of their service, they also offer class notes, textbook outlines, study groups, and tutors. In fact, in their efforts to build quality content, Studyblue is willing to PAY you to upload your class notes and flashcards, up to $5,000 per semester. See their blog for details.

Studyblue is more than an individual study portal – it has features commonly associated with social networks. You can invite friends, create groups, send shouts, and participate in forums. There’s a big emphasis on connecting your profile with specific classes. Before you can do much of anything, you first have to add some enrolled classes. The flashcards and notes that you create will be associated with those specific classes.

The interface is slick and easy to use. Studyblue shows much promise, but there is room for improvement. Flashcard printing is not yet supported, nor did I find anything about exporting or mobile access. However, you CAN attach images to flashcards. Because of the emphasis on class, I found it difficult to link to a specific deck of flashcards. Instead, here’s a screenshot of me trying my hand at some French vocabulary review:

Studybulb - French vocab

Studyblue’s all-in-one approach will appeal to a lot of users. The ability to earn some extra cash is an added incentive.

Flashcard Machine logo6. Flashcard Machine

Link – http://www.flashcardmachine.com

As the name implies, Flashcard Machine focuses exclusively on interactive flashcards. No more, no less. Registration is free. Like FlashcardExchange, the service has been around since 2001. There are currently over 9 million available flashcards.

Concerning features, Flashcard Machine has the basics covered. You can create an unlimited amount of flashcards, plus view all the existing cards by subject. You can even attach audio and pictures to flashcards for free, though space is limited to only a few megabytes. You can’t export flashcards to another format, but you CAN print (via printer-friendly HTML). Mobile access on the iPod is available, but it requires integration with iStudyToGo ($20).

Using Flashcard Machine is simple. No, it doesn’t keep any detailed statistics about your overall accuracy, but for quick-and-dirty flashcard review, it’s hard to beat. You can manipulate the cards with simple keystrokes.

Flashcard Machine - Latin words

Flashcard Machine’s simple interface won’t turn any heads, nor does it have any fancy social networking features, but if all you want is to create and learn some flashcards, it’s got you covered.

Try it now: Need to review a little Greek mythology? You can get an overview of the cards, but actually attempting them requires registration (free).

Anki logo7. Anki

Link – http://ichi2.net/anki

Anki derives its name from the Japanese for “to memorize.” As such, it’s in a league of its own among flashcard sites. I debated whether or not to include it in this article because it is primarily an installable application, but it DOES include online access.

Anki is not just a flashcard creator, it’s a Spaced Repetition System (SRS). In a nutshell, Anki intelligently determines how often to repeat individual flashcards based on how well you’re able to determine the answer. If you know the answer easily, Anki might wait several days to show you the card again. If you fumble with the answer (or don’t know it), Anki will repeat the card soon.

Anki - Main

The program is completely free and open-source, and is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. See screenshots. Anki includes online support – you can sync your cards across multiple computers, plus study them online from any Internet-connected computer. Yes, you can even access your cards on most mobile devices, including the iPhone. Windows Mobile support is currently experimental.

You can use Anki to learn most anything, but it excels in subjects that you plan to study for months or years, such as language. If all you want to do is cram for an exam, there are better choices. If you REALLY want to add material to your long-term memory, Anki is a prime choice. I strongly suggest watching the introductory videos to get going quickly.

You can find an assortment of pre-made decks of cards, but Anki works best if you create your own.

—-

So, which resource is the best? Naturally, that depends on your needs. Every service that I mention here will allow you to create and review flashcards – it’s up to you to determine which one has the features and the interface that you like most. If sheer numbers impress you, take a look at FlashcardExchange. If you want a flashcard portal that borders on a social network, Studyblue is your best bet. If you really want to learn a topic over an extended amount of time (such as a language), you owe it to yourself to check out Anki.

No matter which service you choose, may there be only good grades in your future!

Three Easy Ways to Try Ubuntu Without Breaking Anything

Broken Windows So, you’ve heard about this Linux thing and want to learn more about it? Perhaps you have heard about its inherent security and near-impermeability to malware. Perhaps you’re still on 2000 or XP and don’t want to shell out the cash for a newer Windows OS. Hey, the economy is tough, I know. Or perhaps you’re just attracted to the idea of open source and want to worship at the feet of Richard Stallman. Just kidding about that last part, I think.

No matter the reason, if you’ve never tried Linux, but have considered it before, consider this your invitation to start treading the Linux waters. No, you won’t drown.

But, but, I’m worried about breaking Windows!

Calm down. Your Windows installation will be fine.

But, but, I don’t know which Linux to choose. There are so many!

Yes, that’s true, but there are similarities between all of them. In fact, many of the available Linux distros are just slight alterations of one another. Think of it as one person with many different sets of clothes.

While any of the major distros will work just fine, I recommend Ubuntu to people trying Linux for the first time.

But, but, what if I don’t understand any of the programs?!

Relax, I bet you will. Perhaps you already use several popular open-source programs on your Windows computer, such as Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, VLC, or The GIMP? Plus, many common closed-source programs are also available on Linux, including most of the Google programs and Nero Linux. I bet you’ll be just fine.

I generally find that newcomers to Linux are most hesitant about disk partitioning and the potential risk of losing data. Ubuntu can handle disk resizing and partitioning with aplomb, but for the ultra-risk-averse, here are three ways to give Ubuntu a shot on your computer without breaking Windows or losing any data.

Method 1 – Live CD

The first thing to do is download a copy of Ubuntu. Have a slow connection (or just don’t feel like downloading)? No problem. Ubuntu can ship a disc to you for free, although you may have to wait ten weeks for delivery. Oh well, I guess that’s better than waiting 11 weeks for download over dial-up Internet.

Not sure which edition to download? If in doubt, just go for the Desktop edition (32-bit).

Next, burn the ISO that you downloaded to a blank CD as a disk image. You should be able to do this easily in any CD-burning software. For instance, in InfraRecorder (free), look for the Write Image option.

InfraRecorder Main

Once your new Ubuntu disc is burned, just leave it in your CD drive and reboot. There’s a pretty good chance your computer will boot straight to the disc. If it does not, reboot again and go into the bios at boot, usually by pressing DEL or F2, depending on the computer manufacturer. Look around for a BOOT section and set your CD drive as the first boot option. Don’t be scared. If you have trouble with this part, ask your neighborhood geek.

When your computer successfully boots from the CD, follow the prompts to Try Ubuntu. Within a few minutes, you should be staring at your brownish Ubuntu desktop, running straight from the CD. Congrats! Feel free to play around as much as you like, and when you reboot, your Windows will be there waiting for you.

Note: running from a CD is MUCH slower than running from your hard disk.

Method 2 – Wubi

Wubi windows If you want a more permanent solution than a Live CD, you owe it to yourself to check out Wubi.

http://wubi-installer.org/

Without a doubt, Wubi is the easiest way to get a full Ubuntu installation without fear of damaging Windows. With a few clicks, Wubi will install Ubuntu within Windows, just like any other Windows application. No CDs to burn. No disk partitioning. Only good times.

To install Wubi, you can either download the installer directly, or run it straight from the Ubuntu Live CD.

Ubuntu CD Menu

When you first pop the Ubuntu CD into the drive, you will have the option to Install inside Windows. Clicking that option brings up the Wubi installer, allowing you to specify a few setup options.

Ubuntu - Wubi Setup

Choose a username and password, and off you go! Wubi will install like a typical Windows application. Go get a cup of coffee because installation will take a few minutes. When it’s done, reboot, and you will have your choice of Windows or Ubuntu to run.

At any point, if you decide to get rid of Ubuntu, just uninstall it in the Windows Control Panel (Add/Remove Programs), just like any other app.

Method 3 – Virtual Machine

The third option requires a little more nerd factor than the previous two, though not by too much. Most newcomers to Linux should stick with the first two options, but if you are a more experienced Windows user, go ahead and give method three a try – running Linux in a virtual machine.

A virtual machine allows you to run multiple operating systems simultaneously, all without conflicting or damaging one another. The only limitations are in how much RAM and disk space your host computer has.

All you need to run Linux in a virtual machine is:

  1. An ISO of a Linux distro (see Method 1 above)
  2. Free Virtual Machine server software

The titans of free virtual server software are VMware, VirtualPC, and VirtualBox. Of those three, I prefer VirtualBox.

http://www.virtualbox.org/

With VirtualBox, you can easily try Ubuntu without doing any damage to Windows, and if your computer was built within the last four years or so, the Ubuntu virtual machine should perform much faster than the Live CD as well.

Here’s a screenshot of my Macbook running Ubuntu in a virtual machine:

One cool aspect of VirtualBox is the ability to take snapshots of the current system. Scared your tinkering is about to break the virtual Ubuntu? Just take a snapshot first, then tweak to your heart’s content. You can always restore the previous snapshot with a click or two.

Want more information on setting up VirtualBox? See my previous walkthrough.

There you go – three easy ways to try Ubuntu without breaking Windows. I can’t promise it will become your favorite operating system, but now you have no excuse not to learn more about it! Enjoy.