Sunday, October 19, 2008

Last Pass

Something else I've been trying out is LastPass. Essentially, it will save all of your logins and passwords for sites you visit and automatically fill in the info/login for you when you later visit the site. So, you really just need to remember one password, for lastpass.com, and it does the rest for you. Everything is encrypted and saved within your "vault." In addition to saved logins and passwords, you can fill in common information to forms, which can also be automatically filled in for you when you visit sites. So, for example, you can input your address, phone number, credit card info, etc., and when you go to a website requiring you to input any of this information, lastpass will fill it in for you. Nothing is submitted right away, allowing you to edit whatever needs to be edited first. You can also write secure notes in your vault, edit any entries for saved websites, import passwords you already have saved in your browser or other password management software, and export your passwords. And one of the nicest features is a tool to generate an unlimited amount of random passwords. Since I no longer have to remember passwords, I can generate these more secure, random ones for all of the sites I visit.

Initially, it is a bit of setup, especially if you take advantage of generating new passwords for all of the sites you frequent, like I did. I basically just cleared all my cookies, then went through all my bookmarks and logged in. As you log in, LastPass asks if you want the site saved, which you can edit later. Or, you can manually add sites and enter all the relevant information. Once I was logged into the sites, I went and changed any necessary information on the site, like email and password. I used the random password generator tool with a simple keypress. The password generator gives you options for the number of characters, the types of characters to use (upper- and lowercase letters, digits, and/or special characters), and the minimum digit count to use in the password. LastPass detects whenever the password changes and asks if you want to update your entry. But, if you change your username, you have to manually edit that in the entry. It took me about two nights worth to get everything settled.

Unlike some of the other password management software I saw out there, it stores an unlimited amount of different passwords, allowing you to have a unique password for every site you visit. You also don't need to carry around a flash drive with the program on it or anything if you are going to be using different computers. If you are at a different computer, you can just log in to the lastpass.com website and access your vault and use the entries like bookmarks. Within the vault, you can organize your bookmarks into groups, as well. There is also a Firefox add-on that lets me use the full functionality without having to access the lastpass.com website.

Overall, it's a pretty handy tool. It does have some problems logging into my homepage, Netvibes. But, you can submit feedback about individual sites, so hopefully that will get adjusted sometime. I also ran into some problems when trying to switch my passwords on different sites. But, those problems were with the sites themselves being unclear about what types of characters were ok for passwords, or limitations on the number of characters the passwords had to be, and not problems with LastPass. But, even so, if you are changing your password, make sure you fill out those questions they want you to fill out just in case you end up entering the wrong password into your entry for the site, or the site doesn't save the correct password. It's usually easy to catch those mistakes right away, though, by logging out and using LastPass to log back into the site.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Best Freeware

There is a ton of free software out there that is just as good as commercial versions. I am by no means an expert in any way about this kind of stuff. But, aside from talking with friends who know more about it than I do, I have found some websites that give a pretty good consensus from others who are more in-the-know about what the best software is. Specifically, I've been going through lists at Gizmo's Tech Support Alert.

I originally found it when looking for some other freeware to replace my firewall and anti-virus software. I had been using ZoneAlarm for my firewall, and AVG for my anti-virus. But, both had been pissing me off for various reasons. So, I went looking for replacements. This was a few months ago. I ended up getting Online Armor for my firewall and Avast! (though it is exciting, the exclamation point is part of the name and not something I put in there) for my anti-virus. I've been very happy with both of them over several months of use.

Online Armor: Online Armor can be a bit intrusive, asking you about a dozen times whether the program you are trying to run is ok. This is especially true right away, as it has to "get used to" all of the programs you already have. And it puts up a little advertisement for itself in the corner on that blue screen as Windows is loading (essentially, "Windows - protected by ONLINE ARMOR! - is starting up"). That's kind of annoying, but not a big deal. I mean, you don't need to advertise to me anymore, dumbasses. I already installed you. Aside from those things, I find it pretty easy to use. It also loads up fine on startup, which was a real problem ZoneAlarm had on my computer. ZoneAlarm always went through at least three or four hiccups before it finally finished initializing. And, Online Armor doesn't nag me with screens trying to get me to upgrade, buy other products, donate money or anything like that, which is something I've found myself really appreciating in freeware. Oftentimes with free software, you have to put up with those kinds of minor inconveniences.

Avast!: Arr, mateys, this be a fine anti-virus program! I liked AVG for a long time, but then there was something about it that I absolutely loathed. I forget now what it was (maybe they changed their policies about it or something), but I don't really care that much anymore because I'm now happy with Avast! On the downside, I get temporary slowdowns on my computer when Avast! downloads new virus definitions. But, honestly, that is probably due more to my computer being a piece of crap than the fault of Avast! And I appreciate the fact that Avast! so frequently stays up to date. Oh, I do have to mention the sound. When you first install Avast!, it will give you an audible alert along with a visual alert whenever it updates and stuff. I knew after the first time of being startled by my computer speaking to me, "Your computer has new virus definitions," that the sound had to go. The voice was soothing enough, but I knew that having to hear that over and over every day was just not going to fly. But, again, like Online Armor, it has been solid and I don't have any nagging splash screens or anything like that.

I could go more into detail about the features and such these programs have, but I don't really know what the hell I would be talking about and you can just read whatever I would be quoting from the websites. "How 'bout those leak tests, eh? Can't beat that Online Armor. Fo' shizzle!"

Let's see, what other free stuff have I used so far from the Gizmo lists? I got CCleaner, a file cleaner that gets rid of all those useless Temp folders and such on your computer that just clutter up your drive. That first cleansing was pretty great, freeing up about 2 gigs of space, if I remember correctly, which is pretty awesome considering my hard drive is only 20 gigs (I told you it was a piece of crap).

I also got A-Squared, a program to scan for/remove trojan horses and stuff. Basically, Avast! scans for a bunch of stuff, and A-Squared scans for any other stuff that Avast! doesn't, covering my bases. When I first got it, I did a scan and a couple of things popped up that were missed by other programs. So, I figured it was a decent download.

I also got The Gimp as an Adobe Photoshop substitute. But that sorta doesn't count, since I already used to use it at work. I have since gotten over my initial hatred for the Gimp interface and actually like the program now. However, if people are turned off by the interface and prefer something like Photoshop, there is Gimpshop, which supposedly mimics the Photoshop interface. I haven't used it, though.

I fiddled around with Sandboxie for a little while. Basically, what Sandboxie does is create a little partitioned area, a "sandbox," for you to run programs in. Things within the sandbox do not affect the rest of your computer unless you specifically allow them to. So, for example, you can run your internet browser in Sandboxie, download all sorts of potentially unsavory files and the files will be isolated from the rest of your computer. At the end of your Sandboxie session, you can specify what things you downloaded you really want on your computer, and it will put them there and delete the rest of the crap. The upside is that it adds an extra layer of security to your computer, and prevents some unnecessary cluttering of your drive. But, after using it a couple of times, I got tired of it. My browsing practices aren't that bad and I know what I should and shouldn't be downloading and all of that. So, it just became more of a hassle than anything. But, it might be a decent idea for those who are more paranoid about what they download.

JAP is another program I tried out one time out of curiosity. It is a program that uses proxies and encryption and so forth to anonymize your IP whenever you go surfing the internet. Again, I guess it could add some security to your browsing, but it seems more like something you would use if you wanted to do something illegal on the internet and didn't want to get caught. And, because it is a German program, all the sites that you visit end up being German versions of the sites because your proxies are German-based. For example, in my one use of it, I was getting the German version of Yahoo when I went to that site. So, again, that alone was much more hassle than useful to me. And that isn't even mentioning the setup for the program, which was a pretty big pain. Definitely not worth it to me.

I've got some other programs waiting to install to check out. I'll let you know what and how they are. Anyways, check out Gizmo's Tech Support Alert for any free stuff you might want to pimp out your computer. They have lists broken down into categories, or you can just go to the bottom of the page and click on the Show Me Everything link to see all the lists. They also have some Guides and Tutorials that might be useful, as well as links to other good tech websites.