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Computer Tools

In this document I will give you a list of programs that you can activate to protect your computer and to help with other tasks. These are free programs that you can download from the Internet. Links to the websites are given below.

PC Security

Windows XP users! Setup the Firewall on your system first!
To Firewall Windows XP
1. Start
2. Connect To
3. Right Click on your connection, select Properties
4. Click the Advanced tab.
5. Check the Firewall box.
If you do not have Windows XP and have not already bought a firewall program, you will need to install a firewall to protect you while you surf the Internet. Windows XP users may want additional protection. Read PC Necessities to better understand firewalls.

Additional Firewalls



Virus Scanning Software
Many, many virus scanning programs are available for purchase. One, however, is free and works well. It is called AVG. AVG will scan incoming and outgoing e-mails with Microsoft Outlook (but not other e-mail programs). It will also periodically download an updated virus definition and scan your disk. There is a commercial version, too, which comes with more options. Other standard commercial software are Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus and Trend Micro's product line. I've used both of these and like both. I have not had such good luck with Mcafee. Your experience may vary. Any virus or firewall program can, potentially, cause a conflict with a program or a network. Usually these problems are noted somewhere on the manufacturer's website and a fix, if available, is given.

Two websites offer free online virus scanning and both work very well. One program is called "House Call" and the other is Panda Active Scan. If you've been on the Internet and did not have a firewall installed or a virus program running, then I recommend that you use both of these to scan your computer. Occasionally one program will catch something that the other missed, although that is pretty rare. It is not absolutely necessary that you buy a virus scanning program since these are available. If you can remember to scan your computer once every week or two that is sufficient for the average user. But, if you need the extra level of protection from files that you download or install, a program on your computer is necessary. For most people the free version of AVG will work well enough, but a purchased version has some advantages for configuration purposes.

A virus scanning program can slow down your computer. How so? Simple. It takes resources away from your computer, especially if the "real time" file scanning function is activated. The "real time" file scanning function (depending upon the program) will scan certain file types whenever your computer attempts to open them, or, alternately, will scan every file your computer attempts to open. This will slow the computer's speed unless you have a really fast computer to begin with. AVG has a "real time" function enabled by default and I have always disabled it because of the drag on the system. My Symantec Norton Anti-Virus 2003 does not do that but it has a setting that automatically scans any Microsoft Word or Excel document that I attempt to open. I noticed that this slowed down the opening of the program and disabled that function. It is easier and quicker for me to scan a new file instead of scanning every file every time when no one has used them but me! In an office setting where I regularly swapped files with someone, I would not have disabled it, but my home computer does not need that extra level of security.

AVG offers version 6 as the free download. You will have to go to the website and begin the download proceedure so that they can e-mail you a registration code. Go to this page to begin the process.


This appears to be a nice program that provides e-mail and virus protection. It looks nicer than AVG and I'm trying it out on my home desktop. So far so good.

Pop-up Blocking Toolbars
In June of 2004, hackers were successful in installing virus code in an ad agency's pop-ups. It would have sent the actual keystrokes typed by the user to a website in Estonia if they accessed one of 50 financial websites. This would have given the hackers the user names and passwords to the financial accounts and they could steal from the victims. While the damage was minimal, this approach will likely continue. Microsoft has had difficulty in fixing the security "hole" in IE. That makes one of these toolbars an important security measure since they both prevent Internet Explorer from opening pop-up ads. You may also want to consider using another browser that is not vulnerable in the same way as IE is to this threat (see below under Browsers and Mail Readers). IE is the target of most hackers because it is so widely used. Either one of these will prevent the pop-up ads from opening.

The MSN Toolbar

The Google Toolbar

Ad, Spy, and Mal-ware Software
Two programs that no computer should be without are Ad-aware and Spybot Search and Destroy. These are free programs and can be downloaded from the Internet. Both work to find and remove adware, spyware, and malware. You should run these periodically, especially if you're connected to the Internet at all. I suggest once a week.

Ad-aware 6.0

Spybot Search and Destroy

This is a program that soley goes after malware. I've only recently discovered it. It may be a good way to further double-check for nasty stuff. There is a commercial version available, but this one allows you to update the database and as long as you don't want the advanced functions, it should serve nicely. When you install the software you will have to go to the website to register it. The website is here.

This is a program that will load a number of despicable sites into your Internet Explorer browser's "Restricted" zone map. This means that even if your browser attempts to access one of these restricted sites all that will show up is a blank page. It is a good idea to get the latest version since it will be updated with the latest websites.

Hijack This!
This is a tool to help diagnose browser hijack problems. I have included it in the event that you need it, but otherwise don't worry about it.

Spam Filtering Software
If you choose to use the Netscape web browser or the Mozilla browser (what Netscape is based upon), or the Thunderbird mail reader, their e-mail readers have a built-in Spam filter. This, however, is still under development and is not as good "out of the box" as other filtering software. With a proper amount of training it can do a very fine job.

Other free software is Spamihilator, SpamPal, and Spambayes. I've tried all three programs and prefer one of the first two. Setting them up confused me a bit, but after a while I got them to work. They both require small changes to the way your email reader is configured to receive mail. Both have advantages unique to them. The SpamPal may not be the better choice because it does not delete or otherwise shelter you or your child from the content of the Spam. All it does is mark the mail as ***SPAM*** but it still downloads it to your e-mail box. Spamihilator has the option of parental controls which prevents your child from seeing the Spam mail and gives you time to check and delete it. Spamihilator also will leave the Spam on your server until you chose to delete it. It has a Learning filter, and also comes with numerous plug-ins which enhance its ability. Perhaps as important as anything is that it easily allows you to select e-mail addresses and add them to either your "approved" list or your "block sender" list. It is important to add addresses of Spam to your "block sender" list because when Spammers receive a returned e-mail they will often remove that e-mail address from their list since it is "dead."

Important! Note that Spam filtering software will not work on webmail accounts, such as AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, and others. You must have a POP3 accessible server. For instance, Yahoo will not work unless you subscribe to the Yahoo paid service which is about $20 per year. You must, in all cases, download the e-mail to your computer for the Spam filter to work. It sits between your computer's e-mail reader and your Internet provider's e-mail box. When you retrieve your e-mail it then filters it like a sieve. Most ISPs offer you both a Webmail and a POP3 option.

I suggest going to the website and getting the most recent plug-ins to extend its capability. You don't need them all and you can add them as you desire. Try one out and then try another. The single filter that has caught more Spam than any other of the plug-ins is this one: URL Filter 1.8.0. The screenshot below will give you some idea of its function. Note that the Recycle Bin lists all of the Spam the filter caught. Notice how often you see the URL-1.8.0 filter and also that the Learning Filter, which learns from the Spam you receive, is working well. It lists which of its filters caught it, usually rates its probablity of being Spam, and will allow you to select the entries to enter into your Blocked Senders List. The Spam that was received last is in bold. I had selected these to add to my Blocked Senders List.

The image just below that one is an "animated gif" file. It shows messages that were identified as Spam, then I sort them, mark the ones that it missed as Spam, select the whole group and add them to the "blocked senders" list, then run the "learn" process on them in which information from the Spam is added to the program's database to improve its Spam-catching ability.


Browsers & Email Readers
Virtually everyone is familiar with Internet Explorer. It is simply the most widely used browser at this point in history. But, believe it or not, there are other browsers out there. For office work it is most likely that you would use IE because it comes standard on so many computers. But you might also find yourself faced with the Netscape browser. Sometimes companies use Netscape because it is free and customizable. Other browsers, like Opera, also exist. Opera is free but requires that you accept ads unless you want to pay for it.

Internet Explorer has improved over the years and is a fine browser today. It is a "stand alone" program, which means no other software is bundled with it (such as a mail reader or HTML editor). Because it is so widely used it is the industry standard. Some web sites are designed only for IE and only look good or work properly with IE. But popularity also has its downside. People who write viruses almost exclusively target IE because it is so widely used. That means that using a non-standard browser like Netscape, Opera, Firefox, or others could protect you from a lot of viruss. That may not be a choice you have at work, but it is a choice you can make at home. In addition, some of the lesser used browsers have some nice features that may serve you well.

Even though a number of browsers and e-mail readers are available, at this time I only recommend a few, all of which are related projects. The Netscape/Mozilla/Firebird family is clearly the second-most popular browser on the net with Opera probably being the next. While Opera is apparently quite good, I do not recommend it because of the ads. If you have the time and inclination, I urge you to check out some of the alternatives just for fun. But here I am making my comments based upon usability and reliability. Lesser known browsers may not be as reliable.

The Netscape browser used to be the industry's most popular browser until Microsoft began giving away the Internet Explorer browser. It still has a large following and it the best alternative to IE. Even if a web page is designed for IE, it will work with Netscape, even if it doesn't look as nice. That is important.

Netscape is the old-style "suite." That means that it is a browser, a mail reader, has an HTML composer, and its own address book. You can chose which elements to install if you desire, otherwise all of them are installed. It is important to note that the address book is not the same as the Microsoft address book that is used by Windows. If you like having one place where all your addresses are kept, then the mail reader portion of this suite may not be for you. I have always preferred Netscape's mail reader because it would do more than Outlook, and it had BCC easily available. The address book in Windows is another security risk because virus writers target it as well. They want to send e-mail to the people in your address book and since most people use it they target it. But don't be too afraid. A good virus scanner can keep you from becoming infected.

Netscape is the best, most solid, and most compatable alternative to IE. It doesn't require frequent updates or patches, and once it is set up will run very well. It also features "tabbed browsing" which I will discuss further below.

The Mozilla browser is virtually identical to the Netscape browser because the Netscape browser is built from the Mozilla code and always has been. Mozilla is an open source code which means that people can take it and customize it to suit their tastes and purposes. That, however, is not for beginners. The Mozilla browser here is constantly under development. Periodically a newer version is released, and although it is not manditory, people like to update to it for the newer features and fixes. Like Netscape, it is a complete suite of the same programs. I did discover that when I installed it I had to also chose a "theme" to make it look as it should. The "Modern" theme is exactly what Netscape uses so they even look alike.

Like Netscape, this is a solid alternative to IE and it has even more viewing space because the top bar of icons is smaller. While it is still being developed, it will be changing in the future (see Firefox below).

Mozilla 1.7 suite (browser, email reader, and html composer)

FireFox stand-alone browser (version 0.9)
As you watch the picture below, note that it changes. This is an "animated .gif" file. It is simply about 5 or six pictures which are displayed one after the other. This gif file demonstrates how Firefox's tabbed browsing works. I did a Google search and found several links. As I click on each one, the link turns purple and a new tab opens to the right. Once I have opened all that I want, I then click on each tab and view its web page. This is quite a handy feature.


The Firefox browser is the "cutting edge" of browser technology from the Mozilla family. It works just like the Mozilla and Netscape browsers but has a wholly re-designed code to make it smaller and faster. This is what I use. It has tabbed browsing, like its older family members. Tabbed browsing alone is enough to make using any of these worthwhile. In the picture below you will notice that I have done a search on the Google search engine. I have also opened several pages. You can see that by looking at the "tabs" across the top of the browser window. This is very handy when you want to open a number of pages but don't want to open a number of new instances of the browser or would like to keep everything on one topic together. The Mozilla team has split the browser and the mail reader apart because they know that, like IE and Outlook, there are offices where people use one or the other but not both. So they hope to offer a stand alone alternative to both IE and Outlook with Firefox and Thunderbird.

As much as I like this I have to say it has some problems. Unlike Netscape and Mozilla, it is not yet as closely compatable with IE as they are. The reason is that it is still under development and is not a mature project like the other two. It will do almost everything you want on the internet, but there are some web sites where it will not work entirely correctly so on occasion I still use IE. Both Firefox and Mozilla also have the option of installing "extensions." These are add-on things that people develop which perform useful tasks. For example, I love "Session Saver." No matter how many tabs I have open, when I close my browser it saves the session. The next time I open it, it takes me back to the same pages I was looking at when I closed it. If you like to play around, then I suggest you try this out just for the educational value of it. It is no trouble to use one browser or the other. The only thing that becomes a question is "bookmarks" or "favorites." But you don't have to make that decision until after you've played around with them and decided what you like.

Thunderbird stand-alone email reader
This is the "cutting edge" of mail reader technology from the Mozilla family. Again, this is a re-design of the Mozilla mail reader and works just like Mozilla and Netscape. It is also a project under development but is already very easy to us and reliable. I use it for everything related to my e-mail or newsgroups and have had no problems with it. Just a reminder, it does not use the Windows address book so you will have to import any addresses from Outlook, which is a simple process. Because a mail reader holds e-mail addresses and e-mail, it is a bit more trouble to switch back and forth between them. I recommend that people research them a bit before committing to one or the other.


To me, it is easier to make attachments of files and to use the BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) feature of this program as opposed to Outlook. In the picture below, notice that by clicking on the "To:" I can bring up a list which has CC: and BCC:. Choosing BCC: is easy and after that every name you type in will continue to be BCC: until you change it. This is good for keeping private other people's e-mail addresses when you send to a group. It also allows more and better editing and composition options than Outlook, in my opinion.


This ends the section on PC Security. For more detailed discussion, see this link.

Alternative Office Suites
Open Office
Click here to intall Open Office
This is an open source project that is quite good once you get used to it. It is better than Microsoft Works in that it attempts to emulate a full-featured working version of the Microsoft Office Suite. It is not quite up to replacing it but is very good for many things. I, for example, like to edit my Word documents in it. It does a better job of converting .doc files than does WordPerfect. Also, this is totally free to download from the website. If your computer came with Works and you wanted more functionality but don't now want to spend the big bucks for the Office Suite, well this is a viable alternative.


WordPerfect 12 Trial Edition
WordPerfect is still the world's best word processor. Like the Netscape browser, when Microsoft started installing Word on computers this once dominant program lost a lot of ground. It is still widely used, especially by the government, lawyers, and people who want to do complex word processing tasks. I've used it and loved it since version 5.1 for DOS. You can try the suite out for 30 days. If you want to buy it, check my section on buying software under the "Hints" link for ways to get a good deal. You can also check out the Corel website for the latest news. If you're really cost conscious, an older version of WP11 or even WP10 works just fine and will be even cheaper. In my opinion, I find no significant changes from 11 to 12 even though Corel has done a lot of "under the hood" work. The gray area you see at the bottom is the famous "Reveal Codes" function. This allows you to quickly and easily see where codes, like bold, italics, paragraphs, fonts, and such are actually located. This is a wonderful help if you do word processing.

Below is an animated gif file. It shows Wordperfect in normal mode, then peels away to show the Reveal Codes feature.


Sometimes all you need is a word processor. Abiword is a free word processor and it seems to import Microsoft Word documents rather well. This might be an improvement over Microsoft Works and would save you the trouble of buying or downloading a whole suite of programs that you do not need. Visit the website.


Compression Utilities
These programs are used to compress files to a smaller size and to bundle them together for easy transfer to a disk or as an attachment to an e-mail. Winzip is another untility that has a free version but it also has limitations since they really want you to buy the software. Windows XP comes with an built in Zip extractor, which will let you get the files OUT of a zip file, but not into one. Both of these programs will let you create zip files and will read other forms of data compression. In an office environment you may need to know how to zip and unzip files. 7-Zip is actually a new variation on the Zip format which is even smaller than Zip.

Zip is a common term for data compression. It was invented at Georgia Tech in the 1980s and became the standard for data compression. Many other forms of data compression have arisen, but this is still the most popular and has given us the name.


7 Zip

Miscellaneous Utilities
Adobe Acrobat Reader
The Adobe Acrobat Reader many times comes installed on a new computer. When it is not, it is freely available from the Internet at the Adobe website. It is used to read the .pdf files. PDF files are a standard way of putting material on the web or sending it to someone. Usually it is a "read only" document that has to be downloaded. The version here is the full version of 6.0. It has advanced capabilities such as the ability to search .pdf files.

Fresh Download
This is a download manager. When downloading large files from the Internet, it is nice to have one. If your download gets intertupted you would probably lose all your time and effort. But with a download manager you can simply resume where you left off. In fact, you can even stop the download and finish it later. Downloads can also be scheduled. This program requires that you visit the website for a registration code.

Fresh User Interface
This is a program that you can use to "tweak" your computer. Again, visit the Fresh Devices website to obtain a registration code.

The Fresh Devices site offers these programs for free, but they do advertise to you whenever you visit their site. They will also frequently update their programs so that you keep coming back to the site for the newest download and see the advertisements once again. I don't mind this approach because the ads are not built into the program, as is the case with Download Accelerator. With DAP, you have to purchase it to have the ads removed. Otherwise it is a fine product that you can also use for free.

Type Faster (for beginning typists)

Typing Tutor (for beginning typists)

Typing Test (for more advanced typists)

Burn4Free (a CD burning utility)

Audacity a free audio recording and editing program.

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