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At Your Leisure: Strategy Games


The stakes are high.  If you do the wrong thing now, the survival of the entire country is at risk.  The course of history itself depends on what you do next!

Brutal Wars

There are two ways to make decisions that important. You can become a politician and run for a major office.  If that sounds like a lot of trouble, you can play one of the fine strategy games on FindApp.  Almost everyone has played a strategy game like Risk or Civilization.  Playing on a computer means better graphics, quicker gameplay, and not having to read and memorize rulebooks before you start playing.

Speaking of Risk, Pax Galaxia takes the classic game and moves it into outer space.  You control entire star systems, sending armies to conquer enemy territory as part of your plan to conquer the galaxy.  Play at any difficulty level from Easy to Master.  You can play any nation, and either use one of the 30 included maps, or create your own.  Pax Galaxia is a long-time favorite on FindApp.  Download a copy today and see why!

After you're done playing games in the far future, maybe you'd like to go into the past.  1939:BATTLEFLEET puts you in command of World War Two naval fleets.  As Admiral, you will need to properly use over 40 different types of ship, submarine and warplane to complete the over 60 mission scenarios, and win the war.

If you're a dedicated gamer, it's hard to stop playing and leave the game at home.  With Brutal Wars you can put the game in your pocket. Brutal Wars works on both Windows PCs and Windows Mobile phones.  You can even start the game on your PC, save it to your phone, and keep playing.  You can play Brutal Wars against the computer or up to 3 other human players, with 40 different types of military unit, and a wide variety of maps and scenarios.

There are dozens of games in the Strategy and War Games area of FindApp.  One of them is perfect for you!

John M.



Fixing PC Problems: Your Software Toolkit

 PC Utilities

What do you do when your computer starts acting up?  You could pay a professional technician to examine it, but that can be expensive and it may take days to even find out what's wrong.  Before doing that, it pays to try a few software tools that can identify and solve problems for you for far less money, without the wait. Tool Kit

One of the most likely reasons for a system slowdown is infestation by spyware.  Please read my earlier article for advice on handling this type of problem.

If you don't know what the problem is, install a tool like CompDoctor.  This program provides you with a comprehensive database of PC problems.  You can search for the exact problem your computer is having, and CompDoctor will tell you what the most probable reasons for that symptom are.  The publisher constantly updates the PC problem database, so it's always current and comprehensive.

If you (or CompDoctor) suspect a hard drive problem, you should consider using DiskCheckup.  Many hard disks include SMART monitoring sensors that can tell you about heat problems, bad sectors,and other potential failures before a catastrophe happens.  DiskCheckup constantly monitors the SMART readings, and will notify you when they reach danger levels, allowing you to replace the drive before it fails.

The Windows Registry stores information about installed programs, data files, and Windows settings.  As you use your system, the Registry gets bigger and more complicated.  Incorrect settings here can cause crashes, startup and shutdown failures, and slowness.  Luckily it's easy to fix Registry problems with software like Free Window Registry Repair.  In only a few minutes, it analyzes the Registry and fixes problems, improving both performance and stability.  It's completely safe, because you can reverse any changes the program makes by clicking Restore.

If you're experiencing a lot of problems—crashes, freezes, slowdowns—many people will advise you to install a new copy of Windows and start from scratch.  Before trying that, you may want to run System Sentry.  A host of functions in System Sentry can rejuvenate your computer, and make it as fast and healthy as when it was new.

With a few software tools, anyone can repair most computer problems in a few minutes.  Remember, though, that it is always good to have a current backup

John M.



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.



Looking Over Your Shoulder: Spyware, Adware, and You

 Security & Privacy

In a previous entry, I discussed how to speed up your PC.  One of the commonest causes of slowdowns, and one of the worst, is spyware.  This article is about how to detect and remove spyware from your system.

What the heck is spyware, anyway?  Spyware is software installed on your computer which reports on you, usually to a company that wants to target you with ads.  For instance, if you visit a lot of sports-related web sites you might get ads for discounted baseball tickets. Most spyware has also been adware, a program that displays ads on your screen, either in a separate pop-up window, or replacing advertising on the web pages you visit.  If a new window containing a commercial message regularly opens on your screen, there's a good chance your system has spyware/adware.  Spyware/adware slows your computer down by stealing time on your processor and space in your memory to run itself, by opening windows you didn't ask for (like multiple ads appearing whenever you click on a link), and by using up your Internet bandwidth reporting back to the maker about what you're doing.   I've seen computers that took as long as 4 minutes to open a word processor window because of spyware problems.  After a spyware cleaning, the time was 5 seconds.

People ask about the difference between spyware and viruses.  A virus generally infects the computer without the user knowing, and does directly harmful things like erasing data or using your computer to send spam.  Spyware often asks permission before installing, and most spyware doesn't intentionally harm your system, it just tries to sell you something using advertising.  However, there is overlap--some spyware is spread like a virus, and some spyware will report personal information that can be used for identity theft. 

Yes, spyware usually asks permission to install, but it is not always very honest about it.  A typical method would be to have the software automatically download when you visit a particular web page.  A window appears on your screen asking, "YOUR BROWSER IS OUT OF DATE.  THIS CAN LEAD TO VIRUS INFECTION. DO YOU WANT TO UPDATE YOUR BROWSER?"  Click "Yes" and you have just installed spyware.  Some adware does honestly state that it is software which will show advertising on your screen.  Very few of these programs inform you that they will be reporting on your activities to the maker of the program.

One thing almost all spyware does do: it makes itself hard to remove.  To get rid of adware and spyware, you'll probably need special tools.  That's what FindApp is here for: to give you the software tools you need.

There are two basic ways to detect spyware (and viruses).   Protector Plus 2009 uses the "signature-based" technique.  Every time a file is opened, Protector Plus scans it and compares it to a list of known spyware and virus files.  If a malicious program is detected, the program offers to quarantine it or delete it.

The other type of spyware detection is behavior based.  Mamutu watches for particular things that spyware and viruses often do, such as modifying certain Windows system files.  This type of protection is particularly useful for what experts call "zero day" problems.  If a particular spyware program is brand new, its "signature" is not yet known and signature based programs can't detect it, but it still acts like spyware and so Mamutu can still block it.

Of course, if you'd like to be protected by both methods, you should investigate a-squared Anti-Malware.  a-squared combines a signature-based system with behavioral testing in one package.

Every anti-virus and anti-spyware programs has its own unique combination of features.  You can test leading packages free of charge by downloading them from FindApp.  Please evaluate the software in our Antivirus category.

John M.



Image Makeover: Bitmap File Converters

 Graphic Design

As I write this, it's February.  Lots of people took hundreds of digital pictures in December, and millions of others got new digital cameras for the holiday and now they have even more pictures on their memory cards and hard drives.

To use image files, you often have to convert them into the proper format.  Most image editors will let you open a picture, then save it in a different format.  However, if you have many files to convert, you should consider using a dedicated conversion program to save yourself hours of boring work.

Probably the single most commonly used image file format is JPEG, the standard defined by the Joint Photographic Experts Group.  Both most cameras and most web pages use JPEG images.  AnyToJpeg from PhotoActions converts dozens of photos in a single operation.  While converting, you can also rotate, stretch, crop, and perform other operations.  Process all your photos with only a few minutes of effort!

If you are comfortable typing commands, or if you would like to include image conversion and manipulation in a script, you should download and evaluate Neomesh Image Console.  Image Console can convert between many different image formats including GIF, JPEG, TIFF, and TGA, and also adjust brightness, create thumbnail images, and much more, all from the command line.  If you need to automate image processing it can be a lifesaver.

If you use CAD or drawing software, you know that photos and other bitmap graphics must be converted into vector format or traced before you can use them.  Vextractor can trace image files in almost any possible format, including BMP, GIF, JPEG, and TIF, and turn them into easily resized vector graphics in an amazing variety of different file formats, including Adobe Illustrator, EPS, AutoCAD DXF, EMF, WMF, and many others. Anyone who has ever struggled to hand-trace a face, building, or flower understands what a huge advantage it is to have excellent software like this do the work for you.

There are dozens of programs in the Converters and Optimizers section of FindApp.  If you work with images at all, take a moment to look around, and you'll probably find something that will save you time and effort while making your work more fun.



For the Developer: HTML Editors


The most commonly spoken language in the world is said to be Mandarin Chinese, but I think it's HTML.  For a web developer, there is no tool more important than a good HTML editor.

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) takes the text of a web page and adds "tags" that tell a web browser how to display it.  For instance, this word is bold.  To make that word stand out, I added the tag <em> before it, which means "Everything after this is in boldface", and after it put the tag </em>, which means "Stop boldface here." ("em" comes from "emphasis".)

It's possible to create web pages by manually typing tags into a file, but most people prefer to use a graphical editor that lets you see the formatting (like a word in boldface), instead of having to remember and interpret hundreds of different tags.  A good graphical HTML editor will display the page exactly the way it would look in a web browser.  Most also include additional features, like uploading to your web server when you are finished working.

CoffeeCup VisualSite Designer is a very good visual editor for web pages.  It's simple to position things on the screen and format everything the way you want it.  The included templates let you get started right away creating your own web pages.  An image editor is also included, so you don't need to buy any additional software to add pictures to your site.

MoreMotion Application Studio 's unique strength is its support for the new AJAX system.  AJAX lets you create interactive applications that run in a web browser.

WeBuilder is much more than an HTML layout program.  You can use it to create your page design in HTML, and also to add and edit scripts using VBScript, PHP, ASP, ASP.Net, SSI, Perl, Ruby, and WML.  There is also built-in support for SQL databases, allowing you to easily interface your page with business systems.  Anyone working on a site that uses scripting and/or databases should evaluate WeBulder.

There are dozens of other web site editors available in the WYSIWYG HTML Editor and Text-based HTML Editor categories.  I'm sure you can find the exact one that fits your needs.

John M. 



Backup Software: Because Everyone Makes Mistakes

 PC Utilities

If you've used computers for a while, you've had that terrible sinking feeling.  The one you get when you flick the switch to "On" and your computer does nothing, just sits there. 

Whether through your error or a computer failure, iimportant things can be stored on your computer, then gone the next moment.  There's a way to avoid this.  We've all been told to do it, but according to one poll, 1/3 of computer owners have never backed up, and 3/4 don't do it often enough.  Today I'm going to encourage you to back up more often, by showing you some software that makes it easy, maybe even fun. 

There are different types of backup programs.   Active Backup Expert Pro backs up your entire hard disk, or any section of it that you specify.  The backup files can be stored either on your hard disk, on a different hard disk (perhaps over a network) or on a removable medium like recordable DVDs.  If you use smaller discs like DVDs, ABE Pro will automatically split the backup to fit.  You can restore individual files if they are accidentally deleted or you need an older version, or use the backups to restore the entire disc.  You can set it to back up automatically on a schedule.  That's a big advantage for me, because otherwise I tend to forget.

ABF Outlook Backup does one specific job very well: it backs up Microsoft Outlook data.  Use Outlook Backup to save all mail, contacts, calendar entries, accounts, rules, and RSS feeds.  This information can be tricky to retrieve using a general-purpose backup program.  You can also use Outlook Backup to move or copy your Outlook information from one PC to another.

Have you ever had to reinstall software after you got a new hard drive, and you had to search through dusty files to locate the activation codes for your software?  And if you couldn't find your original packaging, the company wanted to charge you full price to get a new activation number?  Never have that problem again: use Recover Keys Single.  Recover Keys scans your hard disk and creates a file listing the activation keys for all your software.  Print a copy of this, or keep it on your USB drive, and you can easily reinstall any of your programs without wasting time, or spending more money. 

You can find many more backup programs, both general-purpose and specialized, in our PC Utilities > Data Backup Software area.

So the next time you get that sinking feeling, when the wrong file got deleted, or your computer is making funny grinding noises, don't panic!  You have a life preserver: a complete set of backups.


John M.



Speed up, slim down, and stabilize your system

 PC Utilities

Feeling frustrated by your PC?  Does it ever seem to you that your computer has gotten slower since you first set it up?  Is your system freezing or crashing every few hours? Does it seem to take way too long for it to start up?

Are you thinking about buying a new multi-CPU system with huge amounts of RAM?  You may not have to.

Sometimes, computers do slow down.  There are a lot of reasons that this could happen.  Here are a few:

  1. Your computer could be infected with spyware or adware.
  2. Your hard disk may be highly fragmented.
  3. Your Windows Registry may be loading unnecessary programs and drivers.
  4. You many not have the latest, best Windows drivers for your hardware.
  5. Too many programs that you don't really need may be loaded when your PC starts up.
  6. You may have Windows services activated that you don't actually use.

It is possible for an expert to manually search through all your system's files and settings and fix these problems one at a time, but it's far easier and faster to let optimizing software do it.

The subject of removing spyware and adware is large and important enough that I will write a separate blog entry about it.

Optimizing software can be either very specific, or try to do everything.  For instance, RAM Saver Pro does one thing and does it well. It makes RAM access faster.  If your system is being slowed down by RAM shortages, especially if you run multiple applications at once, RAM Saver Pro can dramatically improve performance.

Another program that specializes in one task is Startup Booster.  If your system is taking too long to go from "Off" to "Ready to use", you should try Startup Booster.  This free program will stop the loading of unwanted programs at startup, saving you time whenever you turn your computer on or reboot.

Vista Manager is a package that brings several speedup functions together—over 30 functions, in fact.  In addition to improving startup and shutdown speeds, it removes unneeded files, defragments your hard drives, optimizes hardware settings, and much more.  

Auslogics Software has recently updated their BoostSpeed.  This award-winning software suite also speeds up hard drive and memory performance, and optimizes Internet performance.

These are only a few of the excellent programs available in our System Optimization area.  If you'd like a faster computer, try some today!

Best Regards,
John M.




Minding Your Business: Personal Information Managers


Today I'm introducing a new feature.  "Minding Your Business" will round up some notable business software.  I hope that I can help you to find the best applications available, and perhaps suggest a useful type of software you never thought about.

This time, I'm going to talk about Personal Information Managers, also known as "PIMs" or "Personal Organizers".  The purpose of a PIM is to keep all the information you need in one place.  The information that might be in a personal organizer includes:

  • Appointments
  • Addresses
  • Phone Numbers
  • Lists (including to-do lists)
  • Reminders

If this was all on paper, it would be overwhelming.  With a software organizer, when you see the appointment.  You can click on it for Joe's address, and set a reminder to flash on your screen an hour before your meeting.

If you are part of a team, you will need to share information with your group.  With a "group organizer" that shares information with your team members, you can check calendars to see when everyone is free for a meeting, or use a shared address book so that everyone knows how to reach important business contacts.Noto Organizer

Microsoft's mail programs (Outlook, Outlook Express, and Windows Mail), include the basic PIM capabilities, including a calendar, reminders, and an address book.  If your company uses Outlook, or if you are simply already happy with the Microsoft solution, this may be the best choice for you.  There are many fine alternatives available.  One advantage of a site like FindApp is that you can try many different programs at no cost, and find the one that will work best for you.

MSD Organizer is a good example.  It has all the basic features of a PIM, plus cool extras like an MP3 catalog, budget tracking and reporting, and more.  MSD works well for individuals, and also supports shared calendars and other groupware features.  It has especially strong support for importing and exporting, making it highly compatible with other software. 

Alive Organizer does something unusual for a personal organizer: blogging.  You can create blog posts using the powerful editor in Alive, then automatically post them to major community sites like Blogger and LiveJournal;

The award-winning Noto Organizer is a very light, easy-to-use application that will work well on any system.  Designed to look and act exactly like a paper organizer, it's easy to learn and easy to use.  You can completely change the appearance of all its components, including the included MP3 player, using a built-in graphics collection.

If you haven't used a PIM, you should try at least one of the organizers mentioned here.  If you're using one now, take a look at the Personal Organizer area on FindApp.  You just might find something you like even more.


John M.




At Your Leisure: Card Games


Almost everyone has played Windows Solitaire.  It's amazingly addictive.  After a while, though, you find yourself wanting something new.  This week's "At Your Leisure" introduces some new, fun computer card games. 

How about the 478 different card games included in SolSuite 2008?  With over 9 trillion possible game variations, you will never get bored!  Automatically post your scores on the Internet—can you set the world's best score in Klondike or Pyramid?  Download it and find out!

If you prefer multi-player games, check out RUMMY from Special K.  Play 10 variations of the classic game, against up to 6 computer opponents.  You can even create your own rules!

If you'd like to learn to play Bridge, Tutorial Bridge is for you.  With 4 levels of difficulty, and computer opponents of adjustable skill levels, it's fun for both beginners and experts. Tutorial Bridge is designed to teach anyone to play this challenging, popular card game.

Move beyond plain old Solitaire.  I'm sure you will find something you love in the Card Games section of FindApp.

John M.


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