My Top Picks in Tech Tools
1. This has to be my first choice on the list because I’m using it as I write this into my Blog.
My top choice in Tech isn’t really just one tool but many; It’s Linux. Yes, Linux is an Operating System and for those with less technical savvy, its the entire presentation you get when your computer starts up. Your keyboard, display, printer and access to stored files on your computer all require an Operating System in order for you to use your personal computer or modern graphical cellphones.
For most people all they will ever use is some version of Microsoft Windows; XP, Vista or current version – Windows 7. I use Microsoft as well and I have no strong allegiance to either Microsoft or the various versions of Linux. They all have their strength and weakness and my object here isn’t to put down one just because I praise another. It is my opinion, although these aren’t formed in a vacuum.
I have a dual boot option on all of my computers. That means I can make a choice at startup to determine which Operating System best serves my needs and use that. I can easily change my mind and restart my computer then make a new choice as to which one loads. There are other ways to run both but this works for me.
Why do I use Linux? There are several reasons and I must admit that at first it was my desire to learn and determine if an Operating System based on UNIX and costs nothing to try, was any good. That was 1994 and since that time Linux has come a long way in user friendliness. At first, I worked with Redhat and later Suse and each of them required a lot of keyboard commando tricks to get them to use off the shelf hardware, especially if you wanted a graphics display with decent resolution. Mandrake Linux came along and made using Redhat a lot easier to use. The name was later changed to Madriva. It still is one of the easier to use flavors of Linux and especially so if you buy the software with it’s support. Linux from the start was a much more stable and secure Operating System than Windows NT or Windows 2000 was at the time.
Then along came Ubuntu in 2004. From the start this software was aimed at the desktop environment. They also have a very good working server version which usually runs in a company that serves up web resources for thousands of users. This version of Linux was created by Mark Shuttleworth, a South African multimillionaire, a former Debian developer and the world’s second space tourist, whose company, the Isle of Man-based Canonical Ltd, is currently financing the project. They have created an on-line tech support Wiki which helps new as well as seasoned users with answers. It is the first version of Linux I have used that guarantees me a reasonably quick and simple installation on a new or existing computer. Frankly it is easier to load and find all the hardware on a PC than Microsoft. Ever since Microsoft XP service Pack 3, I found Microsoft relatively easy to load and use without knowing much. Ubuntu takes it a step further and the security update process is simple as well.
So now that Linux has become much easier to use and can create music discs or IPod downloads, write letters, browse the web, etc. what would compel the average non-technical person to use it? Simple economics, it’s free to use. You can obtain it several ways; through downloading off the web – http://distrowatch.com purchasing it direct from a company, or my favorite, go to a bookstore such as Barnes & Noble – Borders – Books A Million and purchase a magazine with the Linux discs included. It may set you back 10 to $15 but compare that to buying a new flavor of Windows. The magazine will also include enough information to get you started and enjoying it. Furthermore, you don’t have to get rid of your present Microsoft Windows system. Just insert the DVD into your computer disc drive and choose the option to run it as a trial off of the DVD. It’s a little slower by this method but at least you can see some of it’s features without modifying anything on your computer.
Remember, if you want to use both Microsoft and Linux, providing you have a disk drive with enough storage space, it can be done by a simple set of choices to load Linux onto your computer. Please always use good computing sense and create a backup of your important documents / files before proceeding with any modifications of your computers software. This leads me to my next top pick.
2. Cloud Computing / Internet document backup. I use two different well promoted and supported over the web backup services, Drop Box and Box.Net. There are other resources such as Mozy and Google Docs. You may also already use either Microsoft HotMail or Google Gmail. I use and like both. I have held a HotMail account for years and combine that with an easy to use mail client for Linux called Thunderbird. I can also access my long time companion AOL Mail through Thunderbird. So what and why do I use these products and why should you? First, all computers eventually fail. When you store files on a massive multi-server and secure backup facility such as owned and operated by these big companies, you are likely going to retrieve your important data or documents from them after you purchase another computer.
Using these remote storage sites, everything is safely tucked away from your home or apartment where they can’t be lost, stolen or damaged. How much is that worth to you? Most of the files we have may not mean much but what about digital pictures, tax filings, legal documents? You can use the limited capacity free versions of Drop Box, Box.Net or Mozy or you can purchase for a small fee, the expanded larger capacity versions. I may have overlooked another backup solution which you may find useful, Carbonite. It is certainly a well advertised product but I admit I don’t use it because of my preference for DropBox which also allows me to share files with clients no matter what the Operating System. If you run a large business rather than something home based, you may find this is a practical solution which carries a 30 day free trial.
3. If you don’t already have or use a safe and easy to use Anti-Virus program on your computer, then you are playing computer-roulette. You will definitely contract what is called a computer virus, without a good anti-virus and anti-malware program. There are thousands of special little programs / worms running around in the open on the Internet. Every time your friend sends you a link to a video / web page, or an advertiser sends you a link to a page, your computer is susceptible to receiving a program designed to run seditious and surreptitiously while you carry on as if nothing has happened. Meanwhile your computer may now have someone connected to retrieve private files or track where you connect on the web to obtain passwords to banking information as well as what you thought were private e-mail.
Although you can still be harmed by those clever enough to send you a link to a bank or auction you regularly use when they redirect you to their private web site, an anti-virus program won’t help you, but it sure will go a long way to keep you out of trouble as I mentioned before. By the way, never click on a link sent to your e-mail from a bank, other financial instituiton or an auction such as eBay. These companies know its very easy to mock up a web page to look like one of theirs, so go to the desired site directly and sign in using normal username and password. Never send someone your credit card, social security number, banking account, driver license or other private information through e-mail. Don’t send it even to someone you know and trust. Their computer may already have been hacked without them knowing and there goes your information along with all of their private a thought to be secure data.
So what are my top Anti-virus choices? AVG is usually my first choice followed by Avira – Avast – Panda and not to be overlooked Microsoft Security Essentials. There are others and my best advice to you is do some homework by searching through Yahoo or Google to find the best ratings for secure computing for your specific Operating System. Always remember to only load and use one Anti-virus program on your computer. Two or more will work against each other.
Here are a few free on-line scanning tools to check your computer for virus or other hidden malware.
4. Privacy and repair for your Windows Operating System. I use Glary Utilities to fix problems, eliminate cookies on my computer and registry repair all in one. This tool just wipes off the crud from my computer’s disk drive. You may notice a speed improvement after using if you haven’t been using a tool like this one before. You many also find Ccleaner useful as well. I use both and they act as little utilities which I run at least once per week to clean and maintain a healthy computer.
5. Ultimate Boot CD for Windows. This is where I have to say probably only those interested in the more technical aspects of personal computing will want to find out more and use these programs. This is certainly something you need to read about before trying and if you haven’t already, perform a backup of all your computers important information before proceeding with this set of utilities. UBCD for Windows allows you to create a recovery disk for your computer. Should your personal computer require service and possibly disk drive replacement this little gem is a life saver. It is also useful as a diagnostic program. No Windows techie should be without it!
6. Maybe this should have been number 4 right behind using a good anti-virus program. In order to better protect you PC you should be using a Firewall. A firewall protects your system from unwanted intruders. It also protects your system from programs that will send out or broadcast your personal information. Think of a firewall as a security system like the entry door on your home or office. Without a door, intruders may freely enter or leave your home, office or corporation and have full access to everything in it. When you have a firewall on your system, it’s as if you installed a door with a lock. No one is admitted except you and those who are allowed access by you, unless you give them a key, or you permit them when asked. Many of the commercial supported versions of anti-virus software include a firewall. Check the vendor description to find out more.
A hardware firewall is the best choice for business but even a home user may benefit from a stand alone dedicated device which runs faster and is more robust. The large and more expensive corporate solutions which I have worked with come from Cisco or Sonicwall.
Home solutions are found with a simple search. You may already have some of the required protection if you use a Linksys / Cisco home DSL or cable router. Your Microsoft Windows PC includes a reasonably decent firewall. If you load and use another software firewall, you must disable your Windows Operating System Firewall by clicking on the security icon usually found in your control panel. To find out more go to Microsoft Windows Firewall support. If you are using Windows 7 with Microsoft Security Essentials, you will want to read the underlined link. I have used ZoneAlarm for many years and have been satisfied with it. I now use AVG anti-virus software because they have a Linux version as well as MS Windows. Another highly recommended firewall solution is Commodo.
Before installing a new firewall or other security suite, you must completely uninstall any previous firewall or security suite. This only applies to third party firewall products. If you are using the Windows firewall included with your operating system, you may simply install the new firewall according to the product instructions.
Two other inexpensive stand alone options come from Dans Guardian or Smoothwall. I’ve used both but can’t recommend them for a large business or non-technical user. You can write me to ask more if you are curious as to why I made that broad statement.
7. This isn’t a hardware or software tool recommendation, but it is none the less a very important piece for you to consider. If you use computers in your business have a standards or policy written and signed by everyone within your organization even if they are temporary outside vendors. Then make sure it is enforceable, not just legally but practically as well. If you are a home user only, then I still urge you to carefully consider what can be accessed and what is allowed to be downloaded into your computer(s).
Many computers have been seriously compromised or rendered unusable because users were allowed to view anything they wanted and go to sites that were known to be malicious in nature. It is almost a guarantee your computer will contract a virus, malware, worm or rootkit if you frequent pornography. Just as in the real world where people are in denial of the consequences of sexual promiscuity, it seems the virtual world parallels the problems with computer trojans, bugs, and other hidden malware. The same thing seems to happen for people that frequently download music, video or ring tones for their cellphones. The practice of safe computing is an absolute necessity in this modern world unless you never use your PC to access on-line banking, shop or store personal and private data on your computer. If you are one of the few that doesn’t do these type of activities and never use this PC to access a company for remote work, then go right ahead and go where ever or download what you want. For the rest of us living in the real world, a policy or standard is necessary.
Start here: these are some recommendations by other authorities to help you more easily and securely access the Internet.
Start by reading Safe practices for accessing the Internet.
Microsoft 7 tips for safe wireless hotspot access.
Two other tools which I frequently use and I will write up more on later are;
Skype and TeamViewer.
A puppet explains a few of the basics of I.T.
ABC’s of IT
Here’s what the update screen looks like after you install the program and a snapshot is taken of your installed software. You can identify individual programs or permit all of your software to be updated.