D W Hawthorne
The Layman's ToolboxPDFPrintE-mail
Tuesday, 29 November 2011 10:10
Written by D W Hawthorne
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This is normally Allan's soap box, but since he's been away I'm going to step in and help him out for a moment.  While I'm not particularly gifted with computers the term "I get bye" is a pretty accurate description of how I interact with them and this article is really for people who find computers and the dangers of the internet frustrating and intimidating.  I tend to build my towers rather than order them built, and I upgrade comfortably without requiring an outside tech to swap out bits and boards for me.  In my office I've been crowned the guy who fixes Virus laden systems, mostly because of my tenacity about defeating the Virus and my willingness to edit registry keys when necessary.

For most folk asking them to edit their registry is met with an appropriate amount of fear as mishandling it could do serious damage to your system.  However, this does not mean that the average user cannot arm themselves against a lot of the malicious programs that are floating around out there and I have suggestions for three programs that every PC layman should keep on hand in order to combat many of the threats out there, and the best part is that all of them are available for free.

HiJackThis: HiJackThis is a program designed to generate a log file of your registry and file settings.  While it does have a "fix" option most of what pops up is not infected with any virus, they're just common file types that CAN be infected.  While it's not suggested to check and fix items in the log file unless you are intimately familiar with your computer and are certain one of your results is malware many computer help forums request a copy of the log so that they can analyze your registry to look for issues on your behalf and then make recommendations from that.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware: It's true that there are many freeware programs designed at fighting Malware, most specifically Trojan Adware, in my experience Malwarebytes is the best option currently available as it tends to have a quicker turnaround time adding new worms and viruses than say Spybot and if your program doesn't know how to hunt down a specific Virus then it's not giving you what you need when you need it.

ComboFix:  This last program is a little unusual in that its main focus isn't so much hidden programs.  Its focus is in dismantling viral rootkits.  Virus infected rootkits can cause normal programs to function wildly and force them to operate commands that you have not issued such as making your computer repeatedly ping itself until your CPUs are stalling your speed.  Virus infected rootkits can also cause symptoms like causing jumps in web searches if you happen to Google search a term related to the virus so that you get ad pages instead of the link you expected.

While these options do not provide the only options to help users combat malicious programs from ravaging their machines they are free and easy to use and can vastly help most people who aren't that confident about their techno-savvy to keep their computers safer and healthier.

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Allan Libby
Piriform CCleanerPDFPrintE-mail
Wednesday, 23 November 2011 10:12
Written by Allan Libby
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An unfortunate side effect of Windows is the more you use it, the more cluttered it gets which negatively impacts its performance.  One of the most popular tools for helping battle this unending onslaught of digital detritus is Piriform’s CCleaner.  This tool is a must have for any IT toolbox to help keep all of your patient computers running smoothly.

The first weapon in CCleaner’s arsenal is its cleanup tool.  This tool will go through your temporary files, internet cache, and recycle bin and delete unused and unneeded files.  After a couple of months of surfing the net and installing/uninstalling programs you will likely have a couple of hundred megabytes worth of stuff to delete (I’ve had over a gigabyte before after not doing this for a while).

The second arrow in its quiver is the Registry Cleaner.  Often this will not be a big deal but after doing a lot of installing/uninstalling your registry will likely have hundreds of unused entries in it.  This is not a huge impact on today’s computers, but it doesn’t hurt to keep it clean.  The Registry Cleaner is very good about only getting rid of entries that are not being used, so issues with installed programs are very few and far between.  Nevertheless, always take a quick look at what CCleaner wants to get rid of before hitting the button.

CCleaner also comes with an auto run manager.  It is fairly basic but can be used to turn off some programs that you do not want running automatically when your computer starts up.  I recommend using the auto run manager from Revo Uninstaller instead, but in a pinch this one can work.

The program is small and can be configured to not run in the background so it does not impact computer performance.  The base version is free, honestly there is no reason to pay for the upgraded versions, and can be configured to automatically check for updates on program startup.

If you are serious about keeping your PC, and other peoples’, running smoothly CCleaner is an indispensible tool and your IT toolbox should never be without it.

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Allan Libby
Iobit Smart DefragPDFPrintE-mail
Tuesday, 15 November 2011 12:06
Written by Allan Libby
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*** Solid State Drive (SSD) Owners, do NOT defrag your hard drive, ever ***

Ever since my first Microsoft Windows PC (Windows 95 was my first MS OS) I have been paranoid about keeping my machine defragmented.  Back in those days it was a very real problem; if your machine was fragmented it slowed to an unusable crawl.  I remember sitting down and watching the colorful little blocks blink on and off as my machine put fragments of files back together to alleviate this problem.

As many of you know, the built in Windows defragmenter has never been that good at cleaning up these fragments.  As of Windows 7 its gotten better, but I still prefer a third party application.  The current tool I use for this is Iobit’s Smart Defrag which is free for home use.

There are a number of features of this program that I enjoy, the main one being automatic defragmentation.  With this program running I do not have to worry about manually defragging my computer every week.  It is not perfect but at least it cuts down on the amount of manually defragging I have to do to about once a month or after I install or uninstall a large amount of data.

As far as performance goes, it does a good job of defragging.  Not only does it defrag your hard drive, it attempts to optimize data as well by putting related files closer together on the physical disk for faster sequential reads.  On some of my older machines this has made huge improvements to how they run.

The program runs silently in the background, and even though its free it does not blast you with ads or popups.  It is lightweight and does not seem to impact system performance even on older P4 systems that I have it installed on.  If you have at least a Pentium 4 computer with at least 1gb of RAM you will not even notice it is installed unless you open it manually.

Your mileage may vary, and you may have your own defrag program of choice.  It’s Geektime recommends Iobit Smart Defrag as part of its IT Toolbox.
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Allan Libby
How Your Internet Browser WorksPDFPrintE-mail
Wednesday, 10 November 2010 09:07
Written by Allan Libby
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In my general internet browsing I came across an article on Tom's Hardware linking to this simplified explaination of how your internet browser works.

http://www.vladstudio.com/wallpaper/?how_internet_works

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Allan Libby
November 2010 Beta Browser JavaScript ComparisonsPDFPrintE-mail
Monday, 08 November 2010 12:31
Written by Allan Libby
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One of the hottest topics today surrounding the internet is JavaScript.  Ever since Gmail begun the trend of using AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript And XML) for user interface enhancements it has been catapulted from its pariah status into the limelight.  How fast a web browser can execute JavaScript instructions is now one of the most important benchmarks of its performance.  Each company brags about their latest JavaScript engine and how much of an improvement it is over their previous one.  In this vein, It’s Geektime has run some benchmarks on the alpha and beta versions of four of the popular web browsers.

Three different tests were used for benchmarking; The Sun Spider test, Google’s V8 test, and Mozilla’s Dromaeo JavaScript tests.  Each browser was run through each test 5 times and the results were averaged at the end for a final score.  The tests were performed on a dual core laptop with an NVidia GeForce 7 mobile GPU.

First up is the underdog of the group, the Opera Browser.  The version tested was the Opera 11 Alpha build.  Since this is an Alpha bugs and issues are expected.  No bugs were detected in testing which says good things about the upcoming versions.  On the Sun Spider test, Opera blew away the competition to receive first place with a score of 407 (lower is better on this test).  On the V8 test it took a respectful place to Chrome with a score of 2375.  Opera took second place again on the Dromaeo test to Chrome with a score of 223.  The Opera browser has come a long way since 1995.

The newcomer to the browser wars, Google Chrome, is up next.  IGT tested Chrome 7 beta version 7.0.517.41.  Chrome pulled in a second place finish on the Sun Spider test with a score of 504.  On Google’s own v8 test it took first place with a phenomenal score of 3315.  Chrome again took first on the Dromeao tests with a 334.  Google has placed a strong emphasis on JavaScript performance from day 1 of Chrome’s release so it is no surprise that it performs so well on these tests.

Next up we have today’s second popular browser, a fan favorite of many people, Firefox.  We tested the Firefox 4 beta 6 version for these results.  On the Sun Spider tests Firefox came in last by a decent amount with a score of 774.  On the V8 test it came in last again with a measly 641.  On Mozilla’s own Dromaeo test it took third place with a 185.  Out of all the browsers tested, Firefox had by far the worst JavaScript performance.  It seems as though the new JägerMonkey JavaScript engine needs more work.  With this said, this version performed about twice as fast as the current Firefox 3.6 version.  Firefox is known more for its extensibility and stability rather than performance, these numbers will most likely not turn people away from using it.

The last browser on our list is currently the most widely used family of browsers to date, as well as being the most maligned, Internet Explorer.  The tested version is the Internet Explorer 9 beta version 9.0.7930.16406.  IE9 took a close third place on the Sun Spider tests with a score of 565, right on the heels of Chrome 7.  In the V8 tests, it scored much lower than Opera and Chrome with an 885, not too much above last place Firefox.  On the Dromaeo tests, it scored last with a 125, not too much lower than Firefox.  Overall, the JavaScript performance was a little better than Firefox 4’s, which is to say worlds better than the performance of the current release of IE 8.  Microsoft has improved the JavaScript performance of Internet Explorer a lot, finally making it a much more competitive browser.

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