Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Miscellaneous security software (part 1)

This is part 9 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series and part 1 of my reviews of miscellaneous security software. Covers anti-spyware, anti-adware, registry cleaners, junk file cleaners, and install monitors.The following aren't really reviews, but should provide you with everything you need to know.

Anti-spyware and anti-adware reviews
Most antivirus applications today come with built-in anti-spywares, so unless you're suspicious something is wrong with your PC you don't need to worry. However, it would be a good idea to install a third-party anti-spyware and anti-adware once in a while to make sure everything's under control. The chief anti-spyware and anti-adware brands are Windows Defender (from Microsoft), Ad-Aware 2007 Free (Lavasoft), AVG Anti-Spyware Free Edition (Grisoft) and Spybot S&D (Safer Networking). Note that I haven't mentioned any paid software, such as the popular Spy Sweeper (Webroot Software). It hardly makes any sense to spend money on something your antivirus is already partially taking care of (the free antiviruses are lagging in this department).

So which one should you use? No single program can detect all spyware/adware, so one isn't enough. What I do is I spring clean my computer once a month or so -- I install at least two anti-spyware/adware programs and do a thorough check (I like Ad-Aware and Spybot, although Windows Defender is, surprisingly, pretty good; AVG has failed to impress, especially in the definition updates department). Once I'm done I uninstall them -- and that takes us to the issue of registry cleaners.

Registry cleaner/fixer reviews
Whatever you call them, if you own a Windows you should have at least one, if not two. There are loads of registry cleaners out there, and buying one (or two) isn't probably a bad idea; like anti-spyware/adware, no two registry cleaners scan for the same items. Eusing Free Registry Cleaner (v1.6), Abexo Free Registry Cleaner (v1) and the little-mentioned RegSeeker (v1.51) are (you guessed) three of the best free ones out there; I also liked TweakNow RegCleaner Standard (v3.0.1). On the shareware front, Registry Mechanic (v7.0; $39.95) is probably the biggest name out there. My favourite, however, is RegVac (v5.01; $29.95; don't be deceived by the sloppy looks) -- it did a superb job cleaning up my registry. Expert users might fall in love with jv16 PowerTools (v2007; $29.95; v2008 coming up soon) -- a fantastic, fantastic piece of software.

By the way, I feel Registry Mechanic is highly overrated (and aggressively marketed by PC Tools), and so is Ashampoo WinOptimizer (v4.41; $49.99). You can't really forgive a registry cleaner if it cleans only a select number of errors in the trial version, or if the company keeps emailing you about the latest offers till kingdom come. Plus, none of these could really match the performance of RegVac or jv16 either.

I use RegVac alongside RegSeeker, and I'm happy with them. I also fiddle with Abexo at times. The golden rule of registry cleaning: if it's not broke, don't fix it. In other words stay happy if your current registry cleaner does the job well for you. If you're looking for a registry cleaner, make sure it has a backup/restore feature. Your registry isn't something you'd want to mess around with. If you're not really familiar with your Windows' registry, always go with the default settings of your cleaner. Every registry cleaner will also optimize/defrag the registry, which really boosts computer performance; and these days they also include tools to fine-tune or clean up your PC (cache cleaner, etc).

Junk file cleaner reviews
I don't really know what else to call them, but 'privacy software' would probably be more appropriate. The stuff they do is clean up all the accumulated junk files on your computer, and hence they're indispensable. Since CCleaner (latest: v2.40.543) debuted, there aren't really many candidates to pick from in this category. CCleaner is free and cleans up your computer really well; in addition, it also cleans up your registry a bit.

The one I use is paid software: Tracks Eraser Pro (latest is v7.0; $29.95; I have a much older version) has an intuitive interface and cleans up your PC fast. Plus, it has some additional features, such as stealth mode, the ability to shred recycle bin files (a must if you deal with sensitive information) and a boss key. My bet: go with Tracks Eraser, or combine CCleaner with Eraser (v5.7; completely shreds sensitive files), to make sure your PC is clean of trash.

Monitor changes to your computer
One of my favourite software is WinPatrol from BillP Studios. It's free, but there's a paid version as well. What it basically does is it monitors any changes to your system upon a software installation. In other words, you get to choose what an installed software gets to do on your computer. This is a really, really useful tool that goes a long way in keeping your PC healthy. Other software, such as some antiviruses and some firewalls, often perform this function, but never as well as WinPatrol does. I've never seen it giving false alarms, and it doesn't consume much RAM either. A must have.

Next: picking a firewall and updating Windows

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Miscellaneous security software (part 1)

This is part 9 in my Optimizing Broadband|Windows|Firefox series and part 1 of my reviews of miscellaneous security software. Covers anti-spyware, anti-adware, registry cleaners, junk file cleaners, and install monitors.The following aren't really reviews, but should provide you with everything you need to know.

Anti-spyware and anti-adware reviews
Most antivirus applications today come with built-in anti-spywares, so unless you're suspicious something is wrong with your PC you don't need to worry. However, it would be a good idea to install a third-party anti-spyware and anti-adware once in a while to make sure everything's under control. The chief anti-spyware and anti-adware brands are Windows Defender (from Microsoft), Ad-Aware 2007 Free (Lavasoft), AVG Anti-Spyware Free Edition (Grisoft) and Spybot S&D (Safer Networking). Note that I haven't mentioned any paid software, such as the popular Spy Sweeper (Webroot Software). It hardly makes any sense to spend money on something your antivirus is already partially taking care of (the free antiviruses are lagging in this department).

So which one should you use? No single program can detect all spyware/adware, so one isn't enough. What I do is I spring clean my computer once a month or so -- I install at least two anti-spyware/adware programs and do a thorough check (I like Ad-Aware and Spybot, although Windows Defender is, surprisingly, pretty good; AVG has failed to impress, especially in the definition updates department). Once I'm done I uninstall them -- and that takes us to the issue of registry cleaners.

Registry cleaner/fixer reviews
Whatever you call them, if you own a Windows you should have at least one, if not two. There are loads of registry cleaners out there, and buying one (or two) isn't probably a bad idea; like anti-spyware/adware, no two registry cleaners scan for the same items. Eusing Free Registry Cleaner (v1.6), Abexo Free Registry Cleaner (v1) and the little-mentioned RegSeeker (v1.51) are (you guessed) three of the best free ones out there; I also liked TweakNow RegCleaner Standard (v3.0.1). On the shareware front, Registry Mechanic (v7.0; $39.95) is probably the biggest name out there. My favourite, however, is RegVac (v5.01; $29.95; don't be deceived by the sloppy looks) -- it did a superb job cleaning up my registry. Expert users might fall in love with jv16 PowerTools (v2007; $29.95; v2008 coming up soon) -- a fantastic, fantastic piece of software.

By the way, I feel Registry Mechanic is highly overrated (and aggressively marketed by PC Tools), and so is Ashampoo WinOptimizer (v4.41; $49.99). You can't really forgive a registry cleaner if it cleans only a select number of errors in the trial version, or if the company keeps emailing you about the latest offers till kingdom come. Plus, none of these could really match the performance of RegVac or jv16 either.

I use RegVac alongside RegSeeker, and I'm happy with them. I also fiddle with Abexo at times. The golden rule of registry cleaning: if it's not broke, don't fix it. In other words stay happy if your current registry cleaner does the job well for you. If you're looking for a registry cleaner, make sure it has a backup/restore feature. Your registry isn't something you'd want to mess around with. If you're not really familiar with your Windows' registry, always go with the default settings of your cleaner. Every registry cleaner will also optimize/defrag the registry, which really boosts computer performance; and these days they also include tools to fine-tune or clean up your PC (cache cleaner, etc).

Junk file cleaner reviews
I don't really know what else to call them, but 'privacy software' would probably be more appropriate. The stuff they do is clean up all the accumulated junk files on your computer, and hence they're indispensable. Since CCleaner (latest: v2.40.543) debuted, there aren't really many candidates to pick from in this category. CCleaner is free and cleans up your computer really well; in addition, it also cleans up your registry a bit.

The one I use is paid software: Tracks Eraser Pro (latest is v7.0; $29.95; I have a much older version) has an intuitive interface and cleans up your PC fast. Plus, it has some additional features, such as stealth mode, the ability to shred recycle bin files (a must if you deal with sensitive information) and a boss key. My bet: go with Tracks Eraser, or combine CCleaner with Eraser (v5.7; completely shreds sensitive files), to make sure your PC is clean of trash.

Monitor changes to your computer
One of my favourite software is WinPatrol from BillP Studios. It's free, but there's a paid version as well. What it basically does is it monitors any changes to your system upon a software installation. In other words, you get to choose what an installed software gets to do on your computer. This is a really, really useful tool that goes a long way in keeping your PC healthy. Other software, such as some antiviruses and some firewalls, often perform this function, but never as well as WinPatrol does. I've never seen it giving false alarms, and it doesn't consume much RAM either. A must have.

Next: picking a firewall and updating Windows