Wednesday, January 20, 2010

...a new tech post for a new blog, entitled The Winter I Fixed the Internet.

The reason I started this blog, separate from the chaos and fun of SPD, was so I could do any topic, subject, or idea that didn't fit into the mold of politics, history, religion, philosophy, and all the things that piss people off.

And since it's been 6 months since I last did a tech post (last was A Midsummer Night's Reboot), I figgered it was about time I take a 3-day stretch with no tech support work and inject some tech blogging into the middle of it.  Then I might fire up my work computer and look at the email.  Or just browse for porn.

But since I have a penchant for coming up with interesting names for these posts:

The Winter I Fixed the Internet

First of all, disclaimer time:

Any programs or techniques listed here are given with no guarantee or warranty, as individual computers can react differently to the same program.  You assume all risk to your system should a newly installed program fuck everything up.  Been there, done that myself.  So be sure to back up your information before installing any new programs.  And every program you install, by the way, will say the same thing in that legalese you usually skip.

As I've been doing tech support for 2 1/2 years now (and having started working with computers when I was about 8 (an Apple II plus!) I think I've got the experience), I know enough to know that disclaimers are necessary.  Why?  Because I've managed to crash almost every computer I've ever worked with at some point by installing something (this one included, because Windows 7 (release candidate) and Avira antivirus didn't like each other, which meant at least 2 full reinstalls before I fixed it).  So as Window 7 is now the hot new OS (Fuck off, Apple, the commercial where you're mocking Microsoft's failed promises to deliver a good OS falls on deaf ears.  Finally.) and the weaknesses of Internet Explorer 6 are made plain (checking SPD's sitemeter, no one is running that POS browser), I thought it time to update and share my picks.

One note:  Most of my links will be to the site  I do so because I've never gotten an infected or dangerous program from the site (note, I don't include buggy or crappy).  So if you're looking for any free programs, it's a good place to start.  Just do a little homework and read everything first.

So let's dedicate this primarily to the new Windows 7 users out there, although this applies to any new computers (even you Mac people who may have to search a little harder).

First of all, let's talk security software.  There are two antiviruses that I use on my computer.  AVG is my choice for Windows 7 right now, as it's what sits below on my system tray.  A second option (the one that fried this computer to be specific) is Avira AntiVir.  As 7 wasn't out yet, I' hope they've fixed the issue I had, although I see they don't list 7 as a compatible OS.

With the proliferation of routers and the improvements of the firewalls in Windows 7, I'm not as panicked about adding a software one for Windows 7.  For XP people (and that's a lot of you), I'll offer Zone Alarm for your consideration.  One caution with firewalls:  they are designed to block stuff.  And that includes any program that connects to the Internet.  So if you install it, pay attention to the popups, or you're bound to have to uninstall something.

For spyware, two programs I like would be Spybot Search and Destroy and Malwarbytes Anti-Malware.  Spybot can run a resident program to kill spyware if you want, and Malwarebytes is good at killing stuff and easier to use.

Now, let's address the curse of the browsing world, Internet Explorer.  As I said above, one motivation for this post is the outdated IE6.  And while Vista came with IE 7 and Windows 7 came with IE8, you're a damned fool to rely on the ever-compromised Windows operating system (and yes some of you are, because I checked).  I also saw that a couple people are using Safari (although that was a Mac user) and Opera (making you geekier than I myself).  But rivaling Idiot Exploder on use is the venerated Mozilla Firefox.  Very simply, it's stable, customizable, and my first recommendation to anyone trying to pry their computer out of the all-encompassing grasp of Gates.  But right now, I'm not using Firefox.  I'm trying out Google Chrome as my everyday browser.  I made the switch for a simple reason.  All my computers are short on memory, and Chrome sucks less than Firefox.  However, I'm not giving up on Firefox yet, because I found a known issue in Chrome, which meant I had to pull up Firefox to fix the layout of the SPD blog (Chrome won't let me change the layout).  So here's what I suggest: have two browsers available at your fingertips.  And yes, IE could be your backup.

For messaging, I've been running Digsby for a while now, as it handles Hotmail, Yahoo mail, and Gmail, as well as giving me that shiny widget you'll find in the sidebar (more on that later).  Despite it's continued beta status (Google keeps its shit beta for years after it's ready to release), it's been steady, stable, and not had issues interacting with other messengers.  But my first multi-IM messenger is back with Trillian Astra.  I downloaded this when I started work-at-home because Digsby doesn't have an IRC client (which I needed for my tech chat) and I still ran the older Trillian at work for that reason.  I'm going to look into it further, but I think they got it updated for the current messaging climate.  And if they have a widget I can stick on the right....

Now, I'm not going to go through every piece of software that there is you should look at in gratuitous detail.  But I will give you some one-line essentials:
Advanced System Care - A nice all-in-one maintenance program
Foxit Reader - The antithesis of Adobe reader.  Small, clean, compact.
Open Office - The free equivalent of Microsoft Orifice.
Picasa - Google's picture managemet software, simple, clean. - The software I use to photoshop without buying Photoshop.
Revo Uninstaller - Because the Windows uninstaller sucks at cleaning up.

Now, let me cut and paste the timeless advice from last time (because my kids are hungry):

Keeping your computers cleaned up is your responsibility (not your kids'). So here's what I suggest:

1. Plan for regular maintenance - Your antivirus scans and updates regularly, and your firewall (if you have one) runs constantly. But spyware cleaners and disk utilities have to be run to be most effective. if you don't know that all these are scanning, plan a day that you do the scans (and you can do other things while the computer works).

2. Don't download shit - One person with their head not inserted in their ass should be in charge of managing all the program downloads to a computer. This includes keeping off programs that suck resources, as well as those that just bloat the system (Dell is notorious for sending computers full of deletable stuff). And cleaning out the stuff already installed can work wonders. If you look on your desktop, down by the time, and there are three messenger programs, Limewire (or anything P2P), and 3 or 4 utilities that are supposed to boost your productivity, start disabling or removing stuff. And don't even get me started on the evils of toolbars (some just suck, some are actually spyware). And if there's any doubt about how I feel, has one that will raise money for the FairTax. Don't download it. Send them cash instead.

3. Divide and Conquer - If you've got multiple people sharing one computer, set up separate user accounts. That way, you get two advantages. First, you don't have to search for your shit in a gazillion other files someone (younger) with Limewire just downloaded. Everyone customizes their own desktop to their preferences, and no one has to fight. And best of all, the ones that have the propensity to download junk can be denied administrator rights. This limits the amount of damage they can do. It's amazing what a 4-year-old can reprogram, I tell you.

4. Backup, Backup, Backup - I've got my documents emailed to me and floating online. I've found a way to turn my Gmail into storage. I've burned CDs with pictures, and I'm working on getting them downloaded online with Picasa. My taxes, which I do online, are backed up online, as well as with hard copy. This is all because I have lost things. Things that I can't get back. Long story short, you need a few layers of back up. You could spring for something like Carbonite, or the freer but limited Mozy as well. Just remember, digital can disappear really fast.

Now, about the Digsby widget.  It's there if you want to talk to me about anything.  And I might actually answer if I'm near the computer.  So if you have a tech question, or just want to ramble in my general direction, have at me.  Or email me if you're so inclined.  I'm even nicer on email, because I don't have to feed my own ego in front of others.  Although it's no guarantee I'll be timely in returning your message.  I am one lazy bastard after all.

Finally, if nothing above gave you anything new, here's a game to settle the old Windows/Mac battle....

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