Archives for: "May 2008"

Applications I tolerate - my software setup

So I get accused a lot of spouting off about applications I hate, and I've been asked what my typical system looks like. Good idea. I'll make two distinctions - between machines I setup for other people and my own system with the applications I need to get anything done.

My systems comprise of:

  • Windows Vista Ultimate Edition SP1.
  • Office 2007 Ultimate SP1:
    1. Word 2007.
      Excel 2007.
      PowerPoint 2007.
      Outlook 2007.
      OneNote 2007.
  • Expression Studio 2:
    1. Expression Web 2.
      Expression Encoder 2.
  • Emeditor Free.
  • Smart FTP 3.
  • Paint Shop Pro 7.
  • PhotoShop CS 2.
  • Sound Forge 8.
  • Virtual PC 2007 SP1.
  • WorldWide Telescope.
  • Virtual Earth.
  • Windows Live Messenger.

Yes this list isn't including the games I've got installed at the moment - as they build up in volume as I decide to play different ones.

For other people it looks more like this:

  • Windows Vista (whatever SKU they've got) SP1.
  • Office 2007 (whatever SKU they've got) SP1:
    1. Word 2007.
      Excel 2007.
      PowerPoint 2007.
      Outlook 2007.
      OneNote 2007.
  • Windows Live Suite:
    1. Windows Live Messenger.
      Windows Live Mail.
      Windows Live Writer.
      Windows Live Photo Gallery.
  • AVG Free 8.
  • WorldWide Telescope.
  • Virtual Earth.

Keeping your computer in good working order starts with not installing any old junk on your system, these applications are all good citizens. Well there are two acceptions: Windows Live Messenger and AVG Free 8 which need a bit of tweaking before I find them acceptable. I am always shocked at how much junk people have installed on their systems, so many little applications of varying quality all over the place cannot have a positive impact on system performance and reliability.

Apple reach new security lows - going on my ban list

There's been a string of security disasters for Apple lately. The first one I'll briefly mention is the vulnerabilities recently published that effect iCal, these security flaws were discovered by Core Security back in January - who patiently tried to prod Apple into fixing them, after Apple couldn't be bothered to issue a fix for months and months they went public with the details. Hopefully now Apple will take the issue more seriously.

The main cause for alarm comes over how they've handed Safari, obviously this is of more concern because of Apple's recent malicious moves to get this installed automatically on people's computers, through their "update" application which they bundle with all of their software, and which they use to force down more than updates, but completely new pieces of software like Safari. A move which Mozilla CEO said threatened the security of the internet - and that was before we saw Apple's complete disregard for security vulnerabilities.

So what have they done now? They dismissed a vulnerability that automatically downloads files to your computer, if you're on Windows to the Desktop, if you're on Mac OS to the Downloads directory. Ouch.

How can this be exploited? Executables that mimic existing icons or shortcuts you'd normally have on your computer. On Mac OS X or Windows Vista you could rig an executable to look like the Recycle/Trash Can, that instead of showing you what's inside it, promptly deletes all your documents. On Windows XP its even worse with most users running as administrators - it could trash your whole system.

Worse thing is Apple came out and said this wasn't being treated as a security issue! What planet are they on?

Of course there's more vulnerabilities - this one Apple have actually promised to fix (who knows when they'll get around to releasing the patch, since they have one of the longest turn around times in the industry). This again effects Safari. This one let's people steal your documents! Jeez. Websites can get Safari to upload all your files to them, fantastic stuff. I really hope the people working at HM Revenue and Customs don't have any iPods.

So that's that. I've officially put all Apple software on the ban list. Nope, you won't even find QuickTime on my machines anymore, well not that you did anyway as it acts in a malicious way before all this happened with its starting things automatically with the system.

I'll be strongly recommending to everybody that they stay well away from these kinds of malicious applications, especially when they're made by a company with such complete disregard for security.

Congratulations Apple, you're on the same list as Real and Symantec.

Phoenix lands successfully

One last thing I wanted to leave you with before I head off to Newport to see Catherine. Phoenix landed successfully last night! Here's the first image of the horizon we've got back.

One thing I do have a comment to make quickly about, have you seen what the NASA personnel are wearing? Those silly blue t-shirts that make them look like McWorkers. Honestly NASA, let your people wear a shirt and tie instead of a dumb uniform somebody like Game would come up with, it looks much more professional and it isn't going to get any young people going into engineering or science.

Windows 7 unveiling next week?

At least according to Long Zheng, Windows 7 will be featured at the D6 conference next week.

This wouldn't be too surprising since they have used the D conference to announce previous things like the Surface computer. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer are both confirmed to be speaking at the event.

Time will tell, either way PDC later this year is when we'll have the real details, and hopefully we'll be able to get a build of it too.

Couple of Apple related videos

Since Catherine is off having fun without me at the London Expo, I'd thought I'd share a couple of videos I came across on YouTube this week.

And my favourite:

Rough translation:

I brought a MacBook [Air], it crashes often,
But at least its thin and fits in an envelope.
I don't have an iPhone,
But I have a plug for an iPhone.
$2500 with the extra drive and software,
But at least its thin and fits in an envelope.
You drag your fingers across the touch pad,
And you lose two years of work.
But at least its thin and fits in an envelope.
I can chat with other MacBooks,
But I'm the only one with a MacBook.
There's not even a DVD-ROM drive,
So what's up with that f**k!?
I've got a port for a projector,
So I brought a new projector, $12,000 down the drain.
But at least its thin and fits in an envelope.
But now I'm on my last cent and have it live at my mums,
Because of my f**king MacBook that fits in an envelope.
Lalala [Kernel panic screen].

Phoenix Mars Mission

Two days five hours to go until Phoenix lands on Mars, the mission is what NASA have dubbed a quick scout mission, where it'll briefly look into history of water on Mars and any habitability potential in the ice-rich soils near the Martian poles.

Phoenix itself will land on Sunday at 23:53:52 (+/- 46 seconds) UT (Monday 00:53:52 BST), as you can see from the drawing above there will be no penny-pinching inflatable beach ball landing for this mission. I'm hearing it'll be broadcast on NASA TV, which should be interesting as I've recently got NASA TV working on my Xbox 360 Media Center Extender again. It'll be doing some of the work that the lost Mars Polar Lander was supposed to be doing.

Emily Lakdawalla will have more details as they roll in on the Planetary Society blog.

Reports of my "meltdown" much exaggerated

According to our mate Kevin Davis I've suffered some kind of "complete meltdown" in response to the defeat in Crewe and Nantwich, while I am flattered at the amount of attention I'm getting from Mr Davis I am somewhat concerned about how it is being twisted.

He seems to be under the impression that me calling for a modest increase in the minimum wage, changing how councils are funded, and stopping anymore unwarranted military invasions. Is something new, is something I'm throwing out there in response to the disaster New Labour have wandered into.

This is not the case. These are the same policies I've been supporting and pushing forward since my teens. The same socialist policies I joined the Labour Party to support, primarily in response to the John McDonnell leadership attempt which showed me and thousands of other socialists out there that the Labour Party wasn't simply the red-coloured wing of the Tory Party. These are the same policies I was selected to fight for by the Yeovil Labour Party, an organisation which is stronger now than it has been in years, the same policies that have strong support with working people in and around Yeovil and nationally.

The defeat in the local elections and in Crewe and Nantwich is hardly surprising. The Labour Representation Committee of which I am a member was warning that unless we had a debate within the Labour Party over our direction when Blair stepped down we would lurch from crisis to crisis.

I'm still waiting for the Tories to say what they're going to do differently to Gordon Brown, not a lot probably, considering they're almost always voting with the Labour government against the Labour backbenches.

I've made it pretty clear what I support.

When are we going to hear something about what the Tories will do? Other than raising the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million. I wonder who that move will benefit exactly.

Configuring AVG Free 8 anti-virus for the best experience

I've recommended AVG Free anti-virus for years (update: I now recommend Security Essentials), I used to run it back when I was using Windows XP. I've still not, after using Windows Vista for two years, got around to actually installing any anti-virus on my main machines. But when my sister got her new laptop, as she had administrative rights I made sure to install some before handing it over.

There are other free anti-virus software out there, such as Avast which like AVG Free is licensed just for personal usage. Avast however I found to be more annoying than AVG, and by annoying I mean with stupid things being thrown all over the screen and stupid animated icons in the tray.

AVG Free up until version 8 was plagued by this annoying update window that popped up when there was an update to install. It was by far the most annoying feature of the program. AVG Free 8 however seems to of fixed this, to date while using the laptop I've yet to see AVG Free open a stupid window saying updating or any other annoying bubbles - once its been configured properly.

No doubt as many of my readers know, I detest heavy security suites. Honestly they cause more problems than the security issues they're supposed to be protecting you against. On Windows Vista all I would recommend somebody install is AVG Free 8, they don't need some bloated security suite which half takes over the system. However getting it configured right so it doesn't ruin the user experience is important, and cannot be done using the default settings.

I hope to make this the first of a few guides. Whenever I see somebody else's computer I am shocked at how much junk is on the system, and how ugly it looks, you only need to look at some of the screenshot threads on Portal Forums to see how bad some people's systems are - no wonder Mac marketshare has gone up 1% if people associate Windows with such a bad user experience - a bad user experience almost entirely created by 3rd party applications, often times installed by the computer manufacturer, but sometimes installed by security suites that people are frightened into buying.

Part 0: Finding it on their website.

Grisoft have no doubt made it harder to find the free version, and when you do find it you get prompted at several screens to try and full internet suite. I think it has moved off their main website, or is very buried, but you can find it on free.grisoft.com.

If you do have problems finding it, a search engine will no doubt track down a copy of it. Just make sure to get it from somewhere trustworthy like CNET's download website.

Part 1: Installation and first run.

After clicking accept past the licence screens the first option we get in the installer asks us if we want to choose "Standard installation" or "Custom Installation". May I suggest we pick "Custom Installation".

After that we get an activation screen, just hit next on that and then we're prompted to select which modules you want installed, typically I'd recommend un check everything other than the core program, e-mail scanners are known to cause issues with some e-mail clients. As are document scanners and other programs if they're ever offered I'd recommend avoiding them and relying on the core resident scanner instead.

Next we get asked to install the "AVG Security Toolbar", no thanks, deselect the check box and select next. It'll then ask us where we want to install, the default location is fine. It'll then go ahead and complete the installation.

Once the installer has finished it'll open up the first run wizard.

Step 2 of 7 asks us how often we'd like to install updates, for me this appears to be greyed out, the other section however asks what time we'd like our daily scans to take place. I typically would disable automatic scans, but you can set this how you like.

Step 3 of 7 asks if we want AVG to collect data about our usage habits, select yes if you want, or no if you don't.

Step 5 of 7 and asks if we want to update now. Sure why not.

It then prompts us to register, I'm fine thanks, clicking next and then finish will complete the first run wizard.

At this point I would typically delete the icon it left on the desktop (without asking for my permission to do that).

Part 2: Configuration.

We're almost done, now we just have to tidy up a few loose ends.

Double click on the AVG icon in the system tray, which should open the application control panel.

From here, at the top of the window in the menu bar is the "Tools" option, clicking that and select advanced settings.

I'd suggest turning off all the silly notifications, we don't need it throwing something up on the screen just because it updated itself.

The last thing I want to touch on is a new feature in AVG Free 8. This is called the "Link Scanner". Basically what this does is load a browser add-on which scans any links with AVG's database, the results look like this:

It places a little status icon next to every link, and whenever you bring the pointer near it throws open that little window saying about the website, and offering an advertisement to upgrade to a more bloated security program.

No thanks. I want the browser to work how the people who designed the browser intended, I want to see the web page how the designer intended. I'm not a fan of 3rd parties throwing their code into the browser willy nilly, I recommend this option gets disabled. Internet Explorer 7 on Windows Vista is sandboxed and isn't vulnerable to drive-by downloads and the like, plus the phishing filter let's you know of any dodgy websites that may try and steal your details anyway, this seems unnecessary to me, and overly bloated.

There's two ways to go about doing this. The first and most obvious way is to disable it from within AVG itself, at the main control panel, double click on "Link Scanner" and there's an option to turn it off.

Simply deselect the option and OK your way out. This does have one problem, it turns the AVG tray icon into ugly mode, to notify you something is wrong.

So I've tried disabling it via Internet Explorer's add-on management controls, and AVG doesn't seem to realise its disabled from in there, keeping it happy looking.

You can disable it from Internet Explorer by clicking Tools and selecting Manage add-ons. Then you just need to find AVG Safe Search in the list, and click disable. Restart the browser and its back to normal.

Step 3: Enjoy your computer, knowing it isn't overly bloated like it would be if you installed something like Norton or McAfee.

Once that is completed, you've got AVG Free 8 installed how I would install it on one of my machines. Streamlined and out of the way, how all security programs should behave out-of-the-box.

Large swing to the Tories in Crewe and Nantwich

Things are just going from bad to worse for the government, it would be an immense misreading of the situation for New Labour ministers to dismiss this result as simply mid-term blues. The Prime Minister's relaunch after the disaster of the local elections has proved to be totally ineffective. This result demonstrates the overwhelming anger and contempt in which New Labour is now held by our traditional supporters - John McDonnell MP.

Labour needs to scrap this pro-market neo-liberal Tory nonsense, and start going in the right (and by right, I mean left) direction. The 2008 May Manifesto would be a good start:

  • Nailing the 10p tax mistake by the introduction of a fair tax system removing the low paid from taxation and ensuring the wealthiest and corporations pay their fair share
  • An increase in the basic state pension, immediately restoring the link with earnings, lifting people off means tested benefits and providing free care for the elderly
  • An immediate start on a large scale council house building programme and assistance for those facing repossession
  • Immediate end to programme of local Post Office closures and liberalisation of postal services
  • An end to the privatisation of our public services
  • A new pay deal for public sector workers to protect their living standards and tackle low pay
  • Abolishing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants for all students
  • Scrapping ID cards and abandoning 42 days detention
  • Introduction of a trade union freedom bill and measures to protect temporary and agency workers
  • Rejecting the proposals to renew Trident

And may I suggest a few things to go on that list. Minimum wage of at least £7.50, funding councils from central government, and no more imperialist wars, we should be using our armed forces to defend the people of Venezuela and other countries and not guaranteeing lucrative contracts for US corporations.

Office 2007 SP2 to bring support for ODF

In a move which caught a lot of people off guard Microsoft announced that they'll be providing support for the Open Document Format in Office 2007 Service Pack 2 (due for 1H 2009).

I'm not surprised following Microsoft's interoperability pledge a couple of months ago, this makes perfect sense. It sends a clear message to the EU to get off their backs as they're no longer supporting just one ISO standard but two. It halts all the criticism that Office 2007 doesn't support ODF - which means Office 2007 will be able to compete on a level playing ground with things like OpenOffice and StarOffice - an area where Office 2007 wins hands down.

I am somewhat annoyed that we'll have to wait until Office "14" to get Open XML up to the ISO specification. Sure most of the changes are minor like yes/no being replaced by true/false but it would of been nice to get it over and done with in SP2.

PDF and XPS support are also coming baked in. I am amused about the amount of talk in the blogosphere about how desperate Microsoft must be for Office to output PDF documents. Seemingly nobody remembers two years back when Adobe lawyers prevented Microsoft from doing just that with Adobe's so called "open" (ha!) standard, forcing Microsoft instead to have a downloadable add-on for Office. It's good to have it baked in now, but why are people so surprised?

Good move, now all the major office suits will support the same formats going forward.

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