Friday, July 27, 2007

Do I own an old snail? Some people may be a bit confused about what qualifies a computer to be called a snail.

Bob Rankin has a nice amusing little checklist to see if your computer qualifies.

If you answer 'Yes' to anything on his list, but your computer is still usable for normal purposes (web browsing, email, word processing, etc), with recently written software...then you have a snail.

If it's too old to run any recently written software, you have an antique. That is a different class of PC, than snail.

And be sure to read on, because following his checklist, there are some good tips for getting more out of your computer, no matter what its age may be.

You May Need To Buy A New Computer If...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

KB936357 = funky

This warning does not apply to systems running older versions of Windows. It only applies to systems running XP or Vista. If your system can run either of these, it isn't a snail.

But since many people own newer systems too, I thought it appropriate to warn everyone about this.

KB936357 is a Windows Update patch you have to watch out for and be careful.

It is microcode for the BIOS of certain affected systems.

Only systems with the following CPU's need this:

  • Mobile: Intel Core 2 Duo mobile processor.
  • Desktop: Intel Core 2 Duo desktop processor, Intel Core 2 Quad desktop processor, and Intel Core 2 Extreme processor.
  • Server: Intel Xeon processors 3000, 3200, 5100, and 5300 series.

The problem with this patch is that it is installing itself on XP & Vista systems not affected and it is causing problems.

If you have your Windows Update settings set to automatically download and install patches, you might want to change this to downloading, but asking before installing.

When a new update downloads and you are asked, do not select the typical or express install. Choose the advanced option and check for this patch in the list.

If you don't have one of the affected CPU's, unselect this patch and do not install it.

You will have to do this every time, so keep the patch number handy so you'll remember the name of it.

I know of at least 1 person that ended up with this patch that didn't need it.

For one guy with an older P4 CPU, it messed up his router causing him to have a problem with it disconnecting every few hours.

Another guy...I haven't heard from him since he rebooted after an update tonight (he has an AMD64 CPU). I suspect he ended up with this patch and it may have caused problems, but I can't be sure at this time.

So please be careful with this one. Don't install it if you don't need it.

But if you do have one of the CPU's affected, please install do need it, even if you are not currently having problems. There is a flaw in the listed processors that creates an exploitable vulnerability and your BIOS needs this patch to correctly deal with it and protect you.

The alternative to installing this patch on affected systems is to install a BIOS update from your motherboard manufacturer. Not all manufacturers have released a BIOS update to address the issue, and some require your system to have a floppy drive to install it. It is just easier to use the update from Microsoft for affected systems.

Full patch info from Microsoft

Details on the vulnerability with select Intel processors

Thursday, July 5, 2007

K-Meleon 1.1 - The Snail Friendly Browser

First some bad news:

If you are running any form of 9x (Windows 95, 98, ME) or NT4 and are using Internet Explorer for your web browsing, you are a sitting duck waiting for disaster. When an exploitable vulnerability is discovered in Internet Explorer, newer versions of Windows will receive patches to fix it, but you will not. It's a security disaster waiting to happen...and it is on your PC.

That basically means you will have to find a newer and better browser..something that is being actively developed and supported...and will run on your old machine.

Many people may tell you to ditch IE and get Firefox. But there is a problem with that. In the latest version of Firefox, they dropped 9x support. That means if you want to switch to that browser you will have to run an older version. This puts you right back at the same point you were with the IE problem.

Additionally, Firefox isn't very snail friendly. It uses a lot of RAM and becomes slower and slower the longer you use it. It also takes quite a long time to open.

But here is the good news:

K-Meleon 1.1 K-Meleon is a very fast light-weight browser that is both snail friendly and actively developed. It is based on the Mozilla Gecko engine, which is the same one used in Firefox. This means you can have a safer, more secure browser without having to sacrifice performance.

It has all the basics you would need in a browser such as a popup blocker, tabs (They call it 'layered windows'), bookmarks (it can use 3 different types: IE, Opera, and Mozilla - select the options you want while installing), mouse gestures, ability to choose a default search engine, multi-user support, etc.

It also supports the following plugins (some of these can be a little tricky to install, please read the instructions):

And it has its own macro language and some premade macros:

  • Shortcut 2006-11-27 - Send URLs to your desktop as Internet Shortcut (*.url).
  • SpeedUp 2007-06-28 - Tune K-Meleon's pageload performance.
  • BugMeNot 2007-06-19 - Bypass compulsory registration using
  • KeepVid 2007-06-19 - Save Flash Movies to disk using
  • W3C 2007-06-19 - Validate web pages using the W3C's tools.
  • WHOIS 2007-06-19 - Find out more about domains you're visiting.

And when I said it was snail friendly, I really meant it. K-Meleon can run on 486 systems and Windows 95...low end machines with only 32 MB of RAM! (some system updates may be required)

There is even a symbiotic loader option available during installation to make it open even faster (faster than even IE!), by preloading parts of it at startup. This might be quite useful for people that do a lot of surfing, but not much more with their computers. If you are afraid of using too much resources while not browsing, either do not install this or close it from the tray when no longer needed. If you do install the symbiotic loader, restart your computer after installing, so it will load.

It includes FlashBlock, which replaces all Flash objects with a button, allowing you to decide if you want it to load. This is almost mandatory today, if you are using an older PC on the internet. It only takes a few Flash ads to freeze up an older PC. Being able to block them from loading, unless you want them, is a great snail friendly feature.

After installing, on first run, it does take a little while to load (I presume it's because it is searching for your bookmarks & favorites). But don't let that fool you. Afterwards it is pretty zippy.

I feel almost like a Pentium II! Up until I tried K-Meleon, I was afraid to do any kind of web browsing with my old PC. I was paranoid about the security problems and lack of updates for IE. I hated how slow Firefox was and would rather not surf at all than to use that.

K-Meleon is the best thing to happen to that old machine. It has given it a new life and put a smile on my face. I now have a new default browser.

K-Meleon 1.1
Download Size: 5.16 MB
Support Options: forum
Price: free (open source)
Documentation: FAQ, installation guide, tutorials, User's Guide & Reference Manual, Macro Language reference, documentation page, tips & tricks

Monday, July 2, 2007

Layered Security and BitDefender 8 Free for Individual File Scanning

In my previous post I recommended AVG Free as your main anti-virus. But security experts recommend a layered approach to PC security and I agree with them. This is definitely a case of where a little paranoia is a good thing, especially if you are running an older operating system which is no longer being updated with security patches. The lack of support for your operating system makes security even more important than ever.

In addition to having a main anti-virus product, that runs in the background protecting you at all times, you should also have a second product just for scanning individual files as you receive them.

When you download files, they are first scanned automatically by the background scanning of your main anti-virus. When the download is complete, it is a wise idea to scan it again with a second product before opening it.

Who can you trust?

All files you download should be subjected to an extra scan, even ones sent to you by your own mother or boss. Too often, someone ends up with an infected computer that emails out nasty malware to everyone in their address book or starts sending infected files to all contacts in their instant messaging client.

It can happen to anybody. Your mom or boss aren't immune to things like this happening, so don't just trust a file based solely on who sent it to you. And when you tell them about it, make sure they know you are not accusing them. You are merely inquiring and informing. No sense in making someone angry over something they didn't deliberately intend to do.

Is there a free snail friendly scanner I can use for individual file scanning?

BitDefender 8 FreeWhy, of course! This is where BitDefender 8 Free comes in. You can get it for free and install it for on demand and individual file scanning. It will place an option on the right click menu in Explorer. When you want to use it, you just right click the file you want to scan and select the 'BitDefender Antivirus v8' option on the menu.

It is yours free, for one year, after which you will have to contact support by email, to renew your license for another free year. You may renew it as many times as you wish, for free.

Installing and Configuring:

Installing is pretty straight forward and traditional, nothing special to note except that if asked, select to update after installing if you have an active internet connection. If not, then don't select to update or scan after installing.

If you do have an active internet connection and have left the option to update after installing checked, go find something to keep yourself busy because the installing and updating process will take quite awhile.

After installing, do not restart your computer yet. Right click the tray icon for BitDefender 8 and select 'Show'. Go to the status tab and uncheck 'Virus Shield'. This is the background scanner that you don't need and can cause problems with your main anti-virus if left checked.

Go to the 'Settings' tab and uncheck 'Load BitDefender when Windows Starts'. You won't be needing this for on demand and individual file scanning and you will be saving resources by disabling it.

Also uncheck 'Receive Security Notifications'. This is an annoying unnecessary news announcer that will just waste system resources.

Click the 'Apply' button.

Restart your computer.

Updating and Registering:

If you do not have internet access on your PC, please refer to this page for information on downloading and manually updating the anti-virus definition files.

If you do have an active connection available, updates should be automatic and you shouldn't have to do anything else, but it is a good idea to manually force it to check for updates about once a week. Click the icon on your desktop or in the start menu to launch 'BitDefender 8 Standard', then right click the tray icon and select 'Update Now'. Once it is finished updating, right click the tray icon and select 'Exit'. You do not need this running for individual file scanning.

If at any point in time you get popup notifications that your copy of BitDefender is about to expire, contact support and ask for a free key for BitDefender 8 Free.

Now all you have to do is remember to right click and scan any new files you download, as you acquire them.

What to do if BitDefender detects an infected file:

If for any reason some file slips through your main anti-virus undetected and you do get a positive result when scanning with BitDefender 8, your next step should be to verify this as not being a false positive.

VirusTotal VirusTotal is a per file scanner available online for free use. All you have to do is upload the file in question to their site and it will be scanned with 32 different anti-virus products and you will be given the results. They accept files under 10 MB and you can even email the files to them, rather than uploading through your browser. They also have a small tool you can install to place the option in your Send To menu, to send them a file for scanning.

Jotti's Malware Scan Alternatively, you can also use Jotti's Malware Scan for the same purpose. They use 18 different anti-virus products. The only problem with this site is that their servers are usually pretty overloaded and there can be a rather long waiting period before you can upload.

Safely storing suspicious files:

If BitDefender 8 seems to be the only scanner that thinks the file is infected, I would recommend not opening it. Do not immediately assume it is a false positive. It really could be infected.

If it is an important file and you were expecting it, place it in a safe place where it won't have the chance of being opened by anyone that has access to your PC, and keep it there for at least a week. Copy it to a floppy or burn it to a CD, clearly marking it with the date and as being possibly dangerous and keep it in a locked location. Then remove the original from your PC.

If it seems to be too important to wait a week, contact the person you got the file from and find out exactly what it is and if they really sent it to you, especially if you were not expecting it. Let them know that it was flagged as an infected file and that you do not plan on opening it unless you can be sure that it is clean. Do not take their word for it if they insist that it's clean. They could have an infected PC and not know it.

If the file is still important when the week is up, rescan it with the online scanner to see if the results have changed. It is possible that BitDefender 8 was giving a false positive and the file is perfectly safe, or that the other anti-virus vendors were a little slow in adding detection for that particular malware. By waiting a week and scanning again, you might know which situation has occurred.

Of course if the file isn't important, you could just delete it and not worry about scanning it with the online scanner or holding it for a week. This would probably be the safest way to go. Don't forget to empty your recycle bin!

If the file was sent to you by someone you know, let them know about it so they can scan their PC and make sure that they aren't infected with something nasty.

Final word of advice:

And as always, no antivirus product, no matter how good it is, is a substitute for common sense. Always use your head before downloading or opening files.

BitDefender 8 Free
Download Size: 13.8 MB
Manual Updates: Download
Support Options: forum, email, and live assistance
Price: free
Documentation: .pdf manual (2.18 MB)

Download Size: none
Support Options: none
Price: free

Jotti's Malware Scan
Download Size: none
Support Options: none
Price: free