A few of Peabody's favorite free programs...
It's amazing just how much good freeware there is floating around in cyberspace these days. As a matter of fact it's entirely possible to set up a complete computer system, from operating system, word processing, antivirus, multimedia, web browsers and just about any application you could want with free software.
Most of the companies providing decent free versions of software usually offer better more fully featured versions for a price, the old bait and switch tactic. However, there's still a plethora of excellent stuff to be had for just a mouse click or two.
I certainly don't mind shelling out a few bucks for "critical" top tier software, such as an operating system. I'm still firmly in the Windows camp on this one, ever since the venerable XP came into being, that is. I've been able to do most everything I want to do on a PC with minimal problems. ( my first 2 personal computers sported the "wonderful" Windows 95 and ME operating systems, so I'm somewhat familiar with the iconic "BSoD" ).
This is by no means an " anti-Apple" rant, as Mac OS X is an absolute work of art from the user interface perspective. Anyone whose had the pleasure of using an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad would probably agree that the beautifully minimalist hardware design and the very intuitive and fluid interface are arguably the standard by which all others are "currently" measured, this statement probably applies to Apple's superb reputation for customer service as well. ( with only 10% of the market share, and customers paying close to a 50% cost premium compared MS, it had better be freakin superb )
But, if you like to tinker around and tweak things a bit, without the "Orwellian" control of the OS's megalomaniacal "Big Giant Head", than Windows is probably your best bet. Besides the chance to actually manipulate ( screw up ) the operating system, there are innumerable applications and free programs to do just about anything on a PC. With this concept in mind, ( screwing up your system for free ) here are a few of Peabody's current favorite "freebies"...
(the stuff Peabody uses regularly on Win7 and Xp, with "Thumbs Up" results)
1. "Firefox" : Mozilla's open source browser is still a personal favorite, and the internet workhorse @ the Peabody Laboratories. Safer, faster and more functional than IE ( which I moved away from years ago ). It offers a multitude of customization features and add on applications that have yet to be eclipsed by the impressive "Google Chrome" ( the current "close 2nd" choice)...
2. "Avast Free Antivirus" : The current favorite for several reasons, the first that it's highly rated by the "experts", and second that it has fairly simple to use interface and doesn't constantly pester you to upgrade to the pay version, as the also highly rated Avira does. ( good luck uninstalling Avira, as it never seems to go away) A close 2nd is "Microsoft Security Essentials" which is very good and requires minimal user interaction.
3. "Zonealarm" : Great personal firewall program with inbound/outbound protection. ( Zonealarm does require a "training period" in which the user must interact to allow programs access, and don't forget to disable the Windows firewall,as you only want one active firewall program running @ a time )
4. "Malwarebytes" : A very effective antimalware tool with a simple straightforward interface, and will scan multiple and networked drives. ( note: no real time protection in the free version )
5. "Aulogics Disk Defrag" : Amazingly fast and effective for such a low price... ( a mouse click ) ...
6. LastPass : If you're like me, you probably get frustrated occasionally when trying to remember passwords. This is an effective solution which allows you access from multiple locations using a master password, can be set to automatically fill login forms and is encrypted and secure.
7. "VLC Media Player" : An open source program that plays virtually any video format and has an amazingly customizable interface with a full featured audio equalizer. ( there are tons of nice skins for VLC, but be careful as some may cause poor functionality )
8."GIMP" : An incredibly powerful and very polished image manipulation and photo editor program, comparable to Photoshop. ( without the hefty price tag ). It is somewhat daunting to use if you're not experienced. For the rest of us who just want to do some light photo touch up, Paint.net or Lightbox are probably a better fit.
9. "Revo Uninstaller" : A program that effectively uninstalls most programs completely ( will take out Avira ), and removes those pesky remnants. Revo has a few very useful features like the Autorun manager, that lets you tweak your start up programs, a "junk files killer" along with a host of cache clearing functions.
10. "Open Office" : For the average user this covers the basics of office document creation as well as spreadsheets. A reasonable open source alternative to the excellent but expensive MS Office. If all you need is a basic word processor than "Jarte" is awesome with nifty features such as templates and the "Encyclopedia" button which looks up the highlighted word in Wikipedia Dictionary and Thesaurus.
11. A quick note, as you're most certainly aware, there's no such thing as "free". Most good software vendors want something in return for their efforts on your behalf. ( a reasonable expectation in my opinion ). Either by omitting certain features and tempting you with their more capable "pay version" or by adding something to the freebie that generates a profit for them, in the form of a search engine add on or maybe a browser toolbar.
Take it slow when accepting "end user license agreements" as most legitimate vendors will allow you to opt out of these additional features @ some point during the installation process. So don't forget to "uncheck" the little box that enables you to install these options if you don't want them. Having a half dozen search toolbars attached to your web browser isn't going to "enhance" the experience much.
It's always a good idea to take a moment and create a restore point before installing any new software. This can save you a lot of time and grief should you run into any problems or compatibility issues. Win7 will automatically create a restore point before it installs any software, but only when it uses the windows installer, so it's not a sure thing.
To manually create a restore point in Windows 7....
Go to Start menu and right click "Computer", click "Properties".
Click on "System Protection".
In Protection Settings make sure protection is "On".
Click "Create" and the restore point box will appear.
Choose a name for the restore point, ( the name of the software you're installing would be appropriate )
and click "Create".
The time it takes to create depends on the processor speed and the amount of data on the drive.
There you have it, a new restore point. Windows will time/date stamp it, along with your chosen name.
For Windows XP users....
Go to Start Menu, point to all programs > accessories > system tools > system restore and click.
Select create a restore point and click next.
Name your restore point and click create.
A restore point has been created.
A System Restore has saved me from major headaches ( reinstalling the OS ) on more than a few occsasions, but this is still no guarantee, so back up your hard drive on a regular basis. With the relatively low prices on external hard drives nowadays it makes sense to use one for a backup device in case of failure of the "onboard" hard drive. One of the easiest to use is the "Clickfree Portable Drive". It's also possible to use an old laptop hard drive as a backup by simply putting it in an inexpensive enclosure. ( also an effective save in case of a catastrophic laptop event... oops... ). And of course let's not forget one of my favorite multipurpose memory devices, the USB flash drive.
The internet is a powerful tool and I would expect most to folks to research a product or service before purchasing. The same can be said for software, and certainly anything offered as "Free" should be scrutinized thoroughly ( as the proverbial "gift horse", could be of the "Trojan" variety ).
Always download from reputable locations that provide reliable information on the origin and quality of the software. I highly recommend "CNET"s download.com", with it's in depth reviews and user feed back, which is invaluable in determining whether a program is safe, compatible with your system and provides the functions that you require.
That said, the fine folks that produce good, legitimate freeware are certainly worthy of being considered for the pay versions of their software, it's likely to be very good also. As always, if any of your systems are damaged or destroyed, Peabody will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self destruct in 5 seconds....... Phfffffftttt.....( nice touch with the sound effects @ the end, huh? )
I loved Mission Impossible as a kid and always admired Barney, the cool electronics guy on the series. It was while installing a hidden camera @ 3:00 am., hanging on the outside of a service elevator on the 10th floor of a major hospital in Baltimore ( they were having a bit of a theft problem ) when it hit me.... "Holy crap"... "I'm friggin Barney man"! At which point Ward, the Otis Elevator service man, who was on top of the car, looked down at me and said,... What?... What the hell are you talkin about?... Hurry up, my old lady's starting to get suspicious of all these "middle of the night" service calls...
One interesting "take down" came from a camera hidden in some ductwork, a couple of rather high level employees making off with, of all things, 25 lb. bags of frozen shrimp and Christmas turkeys... ( I mean a lot of em )...Happy Holidays fellas...
Saturday, October 16, 2010
The Acer "Aspire One" Experience...
A couple of laptops in need of minor assistance appeared @ the Peabody Labs doorstep recently, in the form of a used and abused HP DV 6000 and an Acer Aspire One netbook. The latter being brand new and still in the box, with a request for some tweaking and security "up armoring". The little "One" came equipped with the minimalist Windows 7 Starter and sporting the Intel Atom N450 processor and 1 gig of DDR3. The only changes made were to get rid of all the crapware and the 30 day trial of McAfee for something permanent and free, that being "Avast Free Antivirus" ( a personal favorite ).
Also loading the latest version of Firefox, with Forecast Fox and setting it up to maximize the screen space, 10.1 inch @ 1024 x 600 is about as limited as you can get in anything larger than a smartphone. A few free improvements in the form Auslogics Disk Defrag, Malwarebytes, VLC Media Player and Open Office.
The lack of any desktop customization features is a glaring omission in Win 7 starter, without the ability to change the visual style or even change the desktop wallpaper. The only solution I could come up with that covered most of the bases safely ( without doing something stupid, like trying to edit the file path for the wallpaper in the registry ) was another free program from the fine folks @ "Stardock" called "MyColors".
The free version of "MyColors" comes with 3 free desktops, the least obnoxious of which is the "Diamond" desktop. After a flawless installation the program functioned beautifully, just as advertised and allowed for an easy change of the wallpaper from the bland "Starter" desktop.
|We're Talking Blaaaaand Here...|
|"Stardock" to the Rescue...|
|The "MyColors" Peabody Wallpapers|
To top off the situation "ObjectDock" was added along with the obligatory custom Peabody icon set, and a couple of desktop "must have" gadgets namely, "Battery Gauge", the only accurate functioning battery meter I've found yet, ( the new version has time remaining displayed) and "Pro Weather", a nifty little weather gadget with a slick interface and a built in doppler radar feature.
|The "ProWeather" Gadget ( expanded view )|
I did find a slight glitch in ObjeckDock's Windows Start menu link in the form of incomplete display and upon closing, leftover video remnants. It was deleted and the keyboard Start key ( which functions fine ) will be the link.
|We've got a problem here...|
I would liked to have added some Ram, as I have 1 gig of DDR3 that I would have gladly parted with to give Miss Lacey a little more speed, but oooh nooo, Acer made no provisions for putting memory in this thing without completely disassembling the entire machine, and there's no friggin way I'm doing that on a brand new, in warranty unit. (Of course I wouldn't hesitate, if it was mine). I did try the Windows "ReadyBoost" feature but the results were inconclusive as to any real speed gains...
The "Basket Case" was next on the agenda, actually other than an unauthorized version of Vista Business and a couple of broken keys this HP DV 6000 laptop was pretty nice for a freebie. ( free is always a nice starting point...) This HP is billed as an "Entertainment Laptop" and it does have a few nice features such as a row of backlit, touch sensitive media player controls, decent speakers, a beautiful widescreen display and a button on the touchpad to turn it off while typing... and this unit showed up with the larger 9 cell battery pack which is a big plus as it also functions as prop to help with venting underneath. ( the AMD processor puts out considerable heat )...
|Oh Craaaap, This Could Present a Slight Problem...|
|Hey, Just Avoid Any Words With the Letter "B"...|
|No Windows 7, Dammit...|
|"I'm Holding It For A Friend, Officer"|
|Some DimWit Actually Paid For a Copy of "Vista"|
The only problem I experienced after reloading Vista, other than the interminable wait, was the low disc space warning soon afterward. What the heck? This thing has a 100 gig hard drive...Oh Yeah, no problem, easy fix.
To reclaim any unallocated hard drive space: Go To : Control Panel > "System and Maintenance"...
Click on "Create and Format Hard Disk Partitions"...
Right Click On (C:) "Healthy System Boot Page"...
Select "Extend Volume"
And There You Have It...
Next is the damaged keyboard which is an easy fix, and was obtained on Ebay for $12.89 with shipping included, yippee...
After removing 5 screws under the battery ( holds media controls bezel and keyboard ) and 1 under the memory access cover ( holds keyboard )...
Gently raise up the media controls, being careful not to disconnect or damage it's ribbon cable / connector.
Flip the keyboard up and out from under the media player bezel.
Gently unlock the connector by sliding the black retaining clip forward. ( I use a small plastic screwdriver )
All that's left is to carefully remove the keyboard and reverse the whole process.
This unit shipped with AMD's 1.8 ghz. Turion dual core and 1 gig of ram ( 2 x 512 mb sticks of course ) so a cheap upgrade was imperative. After a long and drawn out wait from the slooooow folks @ MemoryDepot.com... (recommendation "not" included), 2 x 1 gig of Kingston PC2 5300 finally arrived for $55.39 with shipping. These folks must have one huge freakin facility, as it took 9 days for the order status to go from "in transit between warehouses" to "at our loading dock, awaiting pick up". It's been my experience this is generally not a good sign and translates as "we don't actually have your stuff in stock, so we're stalling for time, tough toenails pal"...
Alrighty then, this leaves us with about $17 bucks, so I went for it and purchased the Logitech M305 mouse for $24.88 @ Wallyworld, I know that puts us over budget but the additional cost was not passed on to the customer, ( what a guy ole Peabody is, huh? ), family members... who needs em...(giggle...snort)
The usual suspects added and configured, all the drivers updated and Vista brought up to service pack 2 and we have a really nice, basic laptop here. (I'd definitely give up a 100 bucks for this thing)
|Bethy's Rig... The $108.99 Laptop... Thanks Jimmy!|