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Staying Up To Date: RSS and other feeds

 Network & Internet

The web used to be a bunch of pages about particular subjects.  Once a web page was published, it often didn't change for months or even years.  One thing that makes the web so interesting now is that it changes fast.  Some sites are updated several times a day.

A web feed makes it easy keep up with rapidly changing pages.  A special program called a "news reader" or "feed reader" or "RSS reader" checks the site on a schedule.  When new information is posted, your reader informs you.  Changes are highlighted, making them easy to identify.  With a good reader it's easy to keep up even with fast-updating sites.

What kind of web page uses feeds?  You're reading one.  Blogs are probably the best-known type of feed.  You can subscribe to this one using the link at the right of this page.  Other kinds of feeds include news sites like Google News, product feeds like New Products at FindApp, downloadable audio shows (podcasts) and video shows (video podcasts) and many more.  It's the ideal way to update people regularly.

You'll see feeds described using the terms "RSS" and "ATOM".  Unless you're a seriously technical person, you don't have to worry about the difference.  Both work well and good feed readers understand them both.  You can ignore all that and just enjoy reading your news feeds.

Active Web Reader

There are a lot of ways to read feeds.  Web services like Google and Yahoo have online readers.  The big advantage of a web-based reader is that you can use it from any web browser.  On the other hand, feed reading will be slower than using an application installed on your computer.  Many people find the web interfaces difficult or awkward to use.

It's hard to beat the value of Active Web Reader.  This award-winning program lets you organize your feeds in folders, checks sites for updates at lightning speeds, and automatically detects any feeds on pages you open in your browser.  It also monitors any web pages and notifies you about changes.  Best of all, Active Web Reader is completely free!

RSS Captor has all the standard feed-reading features, plus a special filtering system to locate postings you are especially interested in.  Advanced pattern-matching technology helps you zero in on exactly the things you want to know.

Newsgroup Commander combines an excellent RSS reader with a powerful Usenet newsgroup reader.  You can search both feeds and newsgroups with a single command. If you read both blogs and groups, Newsgroup Commander can simplify your life by combining both into a single window.

Once you start using RSS feeds, you'll never go back.  The information and entertainment you want is right there waiting for you.  It's always up to date, and easy to read.  These programs can make reading your feeds easier and more fun.  Give them a try!

John M.



Your first line of defense: personal firewalls

 Network & Internet

Every day, the news reports on "hackers" or "cybercriminals".  They steal credit card numbers, turn computers into zombies, and use people's home PCs to hide illegal files.  We all want to protect ourselves.

The good news is, you can protect yourself pretty easily.  The components of basic protection are:

  1. Antivirus and antispyware software.
  2. A personal firewall.
  3. Being careful!

We will talk about personal firewalls, what they do, and some of the available software.  In the future I will cover the other areas.

What is a firewall?

A firewall is a system to protect a computer or network from intruders.  Firewalls can be either hardware or software.  This article is about software firewalls that protect individual computers.

One thing that a firewall does is very simple: it blocks all network connections from the outside. If the intruder can't even connect to your computer, the attack fails.  Obviously, some things, like certain multiplayer games, require network connections to work.  In these cases, you set the firewall to allow exceptions.  Be selective when making exceptions.  Don't allow every program to do everything.

More advanced firewalls actually check the data coming in over the network, looking for the "signatures" of dangerous software.  For instance, an advanced firewall can detect everything from viruses to so-called "Trojan Horses" and prevent the transfer from continuing.

Modern firewalls will also block connections out of your computer unless you make an exception.  Why?  Because if some "malware" does manage to get installed on your computer, this function can stop it from sending spam or serving illegal files, and the firewall software will also alert you that an unauthorized program is trying to access the Internet.

What firewall to use?

Microsoft Windows XP and newer come with a built-in Windows Firewall.  If you do not have another firewall installed, you should definitely be sure that Windows Firewall is activated and working. Windows Firewall is not considered a particularly advanced or powerful program, but it is certainly better than nothing.

The Iolo Personal Firewall has a special "IntelliDefense" feature which makes smarter decisions while bothering not bothering the user with unneeded popups.  It provides an extra layer of defense by monitoring important files on your system so that they can't be modified.  Advanced users also will like the superior logging and customization features.

Agnitum Outpost Firewall Pro includes several kinds of protection in a single package: it is a firewall, antispyware protection, and also steers you away from dangerous web sites that host malware or attempt to steal passwords.

Ashampoo offers two firewall products.  Ashampoo Firewall FREE offers standard firewall functionality.  Ashampoo Firewall PRO adds a host of additional capabilities:  a child protection mode, stealth ports to allow Internet access without being detectable to hackers, an Internet accelerator, and more.

If your computer connects to the Internet, not protecting it is like leaving your wallet in an unlocked car.  It's just asking for trouble.   Please be sure you have a capable firewall protecting all your computers.

I hope you've found this article useful. 

John M.


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