This post is a little off topic, compared to most of my other posts, but involves one of my other interests; Ultimate (frisbee). If you are unfamiliar with Ultimate, and how it differs from throwing a frisbee around at the beach, the following video gives a good example of top level Ultimate being played. This game took place about a week ago, in Vancouver, with Furious George, a top ranked Canadian club based in Vancouver, playing NexGen, a group of top US College players.
How often do you get to a website and want to download something, buy something, play a game or access some information, and find you need to create a login and password to access what you want. Creating a login for yourself is usually pretty easy, but coming up with a good password is not. If you are like most people, you just use the same password for everything, which is not a good idea.
At Ewert Technologies, we have just a released a new iPhone®/iPod® App, called iPwdGen, which will help you to create strong and secure passwords. With this App, you can create passwords with lengths from 4 to 25 characters. You can also configure the App so that the passwords contain:
In addition, iPwdGen will rate the strength of your password, giving you an idea if the password you plan to use is acceptable or not.
Check out iPwdGen on iTunes App Store.
Once you have created a strong password, you need to be able to remember it. Using a Password Manager can help with that. Password Managers organize and store all of your password in one secure place. If you are looking for a Password Manager, give PWMinder a try. It is available as a desktop application for Windows, Mac OS/X, and Linux; and a mobile application for BlackBerry® (mobile versions for iPhone® and Android® will be available soon).
This is the third part in my series, on giving recommendations for free software, that every PC should have. In Part 1, I wrote about security software, in Part 2, I wrote about productivity software; in this article I will gives suggestions on software that keep your computer running smooth.
When you first buy a new computer, it runs very fast, but over time it begins to slow down. There can be several reasons for this. Firstly, as more and more software is installed and uninstalled, the Windows Registry (a database of computer configurations and user settings), become large, and possibly full of errors. Secondly, the hard drive becomes full and data gets fragmented. Thirdly as some software gets installed they install background services, that although may not be really needed, start up every time your computer starts, and use up valuable memory and processing power.
There are many software utilities to help with these problems, they generally fall into the following categories:
Registry Cleaners search through your Windows Registry, and try to find any data this is no longer needed, or has potential errors. It then tries to fix the errors and remove any unnecessary data.
Warning: The windows registry is essential for your computer to run properly, and if it gets corrupted it can cause you computer to stop working. It is, therefore, important to be careful whenever you deal with the registry; and ideally your registry cleaner should make some kind of a backup before attempting any cleaning.
As data gets written to, and deleted from your hard drive, gaps can occur and then as new data gets written the data for a particular file, doesn't always end up together. So then when this data is read, the data may need to be taken from several places on the hard drive causing it to work harder. This can lead to slowness, and also shortens the life of your hard drive. A Disk Defragmenter goes through your hard drive and looks for all the different fragments that belong together and then puts them back together.
As software gets installed and run on your computer, temporary data and files often get written. Over time, these unneeded temporary files can begin to take up significant space on your hard drive. Disk Cleaners will search your hard drive for any potential unnecessary files and give you a chance to remove them, freeing up valuable disk space.
These tools provide basic information about your computer, including what hardware is installed, what software is installed, what is currently running, memory and CPU usage.
Over the years, I have tried various utilities that accomplish the tasks above, and below are my recommendations (all are free):
CCleaner is both a Disk Cleaner and Registry Cleaner. It scans your Hard Drive for potentially unnecessary files and also scans your registry for any problems. Both scans are configurable so you can exclude certain items that you may want to keep. The registry cleaner gives you the option to backup your changes before you apply them, in case there are any problems.
CCleaner also lets you examine which applications and processes are automatically started when your computer starts up. It is a good idea to look over this list and disable anything you don't need running.
In addition CCleaner also lists all of the software installed on you computer and allows you to uninstall any software you no longer need.
Defraggler is a Disk Defragmenter. It is pretty basic, but it gets the job done. You can first analyze your hard drive and get a report of how fragmented your hard drive is, and then choose to defragment it.
Speccy is a simple little System Information tool. It provides detailed information about your computer. It includes a summary and information about the following:
This information can be very useful when trying to troubleshoot potential problems with your computer.
procexp (process explorer) is like a beefed up version of Windows Task Manager, and gives detailed information about the current CPU and Memory Usage, as well as which processes are running. Again, this information can be very useful when trying to figure out a problem with you computer.
Hopefully you find these recommendations useful, and they will help keep your computer running at peak performance.
In Part 1, I wrote about how to keep your computer safe, using free software. In this article I will give suggestions on how to be productive with your PC, without having to spend any money.
Some of the most common tasks that computers are used for is writing letters, reports and papers, creating budgets and tracking items. All of these tasks can be accomplished using a modern office suite that generally consists of a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software. The standard in office suites, for the past many years has been Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office is a very good product; the only problem is you'll need to spend between $150 and $400 to purchase it (depending on the package you buy). Also, you'll need to spend that again, every few years, as new versions get released.
An excellent alternative to this is LibreOffice. It also offers a nice office suite, but the good news is, as its name suggests, it is free. The user interface may not be quite a polished, as Microsoft Office, but it provides all of the functionality that most users need. It is also compatible with Microsoft Office, so you can opens files created with Microsoft Office.
Another alternative is OpenOffice. Internally, it is almost identical to LibreOffice, but currently LibreOffice seems to more actively developed and seems to have a slightly better user interface.
A final option for an office suite, is to use Google Docs. Google Docs provides and online (browser based) set of office tools. This can be handy for sharing documents and also can be useful if you want to work on documents on several different computers. The drawback is, you need to have internet access.
Of the three alternatives, mentioned, I highly recommend LibreOffice.
You may be thinking "My computer already comes with a free Internet Browser - Internet Explorer". While you are right that you already have a free browser, but you need to ask yourself, do you have the best (or even a good) browser. This article is not meant to trash Internet Explorer, nor is it meant to be a detailed technical comparison between browsers (there are many articles online to do that), rather, I would like to let the general PC user know that there are alternatives to Internet Explorer.
The most popular alternative to Internet Explorer is Firefox. I have been using Firefox as my primary browser for about 3 years and love it. What I particularly like the most, is the availability of add-ons and plugin, that really let me customize how I use my browser.
I have recently also started trying out Google Chrome. It has taken me a bit, to get used to its minimalist look, but it is starting to grow on me.
So, even if you are happy with Internet Explorer, you may want to give some of the other browsers a try.
One of the most common uses of a personal computer is to send and receive Email messages. Most people that use Email at work will be familiar with Microsoft Outlook, which provides an intergrated EMail, Contact Manager, Calendar and Meeting Planner for the work environment. For most of us this is overkill for at home, especially when you would need to pay $130 and $200.
The best free alternative is Thunderbird, created by Mozilla, the same people who create Firefox. When you include the Lightning calendar add-on, Thunderbird provides with with all you need: a very good email client and a decent contact manager and calendar. Like Firefox, Thunderbird has many add-ons and plug-ins available to help you customize it. For those of you with many email accounts, Thunderbird is perfect, since it supports managing more than one account at a time.
A final email option, is to stick with a web based email like Yahoo! or Google. The advantage is, you don't have to install anything, and can access your Email from any computer. The disadvantage is you will need to have a internet connection to view your mail.
Hopefully this article has provided you with some ways to get maximum use out of you computer and a minimum price.
In my next article, I will discuss some free utilities, to keep you computer running smooth.
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