January 26, 2005

Some of the Best Software You Never Tried (Part 3) - Free SMTP Servers

If you use a standalone e-mail program for your personal use, you may eventually encounter the need to turn your PC into your very own outgoing mail server -- without having to be a certified network engineer. This is useful if your ISP locks its outgoing e-mail server and you're trying to access it without being logged in their system. For example, you might be trying to send e-mail from within another network (Wi-Fi, hotel broadband provider, etc.) and denied access. Some ISPs do this to prevent spammers from accessing their e-mail servers from the outside and exploit them as open relays. Another reason could be that you need to do some mass-mailing of e-mail newsletters, and some systems put limits on the number of concurrent recipients per e-mail. I've even encountered SMTP access issues on my home PC with multiple ISPs.

Free SMTP Server and the freeware version of the PostCast Server will do the trick. Both are SMTP server programs for your PC, which means that you can send e-mails directly from your PC without needing to connect to your ISP's or web host's outgoing mail server. (SMTP = Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). After installation all you generally need to do is change a single setting in your desired e-mail program: Change the SMTP server name to "localhost" (without the quotes), and you're ready to go. Need to change it back? Just type back in the setting you used previously (usually something similar to smtp.yourispdomain.com). You'll want to keep track of the prior setting for this reason.

I've tried both Free SMTP Server and the free PostCast Server on my home PC. Free SMTP Server is tiny and basic, doesn't muck up system files, and works on all flavors of Windows (95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP). It only has two sets of options and you generally don't need to change either one (DNS server and SMTP port number). As such, it doesn't put any noticeable strain on the PC. It was drop-dead simple to use and it worked well. If you have a personal firewall, you may need to configure a very simple rule to let Free SMTP Server send data out port 25, the standard port used for sending e-mail. For security reasons, don't configure it to allow any incoming traffic -- you're sending e-mail out, not in.

However, you may have more sophisticated needs depending on the network you're using and your particular setup. In that case, the free PostCast Server may be worth a look. Like Free SMTP Server above, it runs on Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP. It is definitely more fully-featured and sports a familiar Outlook-style interface. However, I noticed it uses more CPU resources by comparison and its 15MB program download installs many Windows system files. But if you're looking for a free SMTP server option for your PC with some flexibility and muscle, you might just want to check it out.

For most users, I recommend trying Free SMTP Server first.

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat
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January 25, 2005

“Robert, they can’t eat you!” -- Bob Parsons' Rules for Survival

Bob Parsons is well known for founding/forging several successful companies, among them Parsons Technology and GoDaddy.com. So when he blogs about his life experiences and the 16 rules he tries to live by, it's well worth the read. It's a testament to the power of positive thinking, not taking anything too seriously, and sheer tenacity. Great advice for overcoming challenges, whether in business or one's personal endeavors.

Topic(s):   Other Musings
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January 22, 2005

Don't Panix! Lessons Learned from Domain Name Hijacking

InternetWeek has a good article chronicling the recent hijacking of the Panix.com domain name, and the lessons learned.

It shows how the recent ICANN changes to domain transfer rules to make transfers easier and quicker has made the system more vulnerable to abuse. Apparently Panix, the New York ISP, took all the appropriate precautions in advance to protect themselves, but the hijacking occurred anyway. The amazing thing is that even with a domain lockdown in place, the "hacker took the domain with a very unsophisticated attack. The attacker simply used normal registration procedures and a stolen credit card to claim panix.com with a MelbourneIT registrar reseller."

It's a good read and offers some suggestions to protect yourself. But as this illustrates, it's still a fragile system. Even with precautions in place, I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen again.

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
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January 19, 2005

Best WiFi Seeker, Finder, Detector, Locator Roundup

Handtops.com has a great comparison review of just about every WiFi detector currently available on the market. Included are photos, summaries, usage tests, a feature comparison chart, and more. The following devices are covered:

  • Smart ID WiFi Detector - WFS-1
  • PCTEL WiFi Seeker (made by Chrysalis Development)
  • Kensington WiFi Finder Plus
  • Hawking Technologies WiFi Locator - HWL1
  • Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter - HS10
They left out the original Kensington WiFi Finder, which as they aptly stated, "had very poor reviews online so we weren't disappointed about it's exclusion from our roundup." However, the new Kensington "Plus" model received a more favorable reception this time around (pardon the pun).

Quite newsworthy is the Canary device listed above, as it is the first and only WiFi detector I've seen which includes an LCD screen to display the wireless network's SSID (network name), channel, and encryption status so you know whether it's an open network without having to boot up your laptop. If multiple overlapping networks are present, repeat the scan as needed to view their information. Finally, someone has been paying attention to our suggestions.

Kudos to Handtops.com for compiling and publishing one of the most useful and nicely formatted reviews I've read in a while. The author(s) thoughtfully declined to declare a winner, simply because each device has its trade-offs. People's needs and tastes for these devices tend to vary. In this regard, the information provided should help most folks select an appropriate device depending on signal sensitivity, size, weight, cost, and information displayed.

Keeping score in the product-branding department: Have we used up all the good WiFi detector synonyms yet? For you sports fans, we've now used "Finder", "Detector", "Seeker", "Locator", and the trendy-sounding "Hotspotter" -- making it ever more challenging to find them all with a single search string.

Let's see, what's left: The WiFi Sensor? Surveyor? Recognizer? Informer? How about The BeeGee? (oops, that one is really close to a well-known pop group -- but like the racing airplane, it could be small and fast). Or will we see more sporty names like "The GlobeTrotter" or "The DoubleTake" (for dual WiFi and Bluetooth detection)? Anyway, enough fun. Place your bets.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
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January 16, 2005

Some of the Best Software You Never Tried (Part 2) - Index.dat Suite

Continuing on in this series:

In Windows, one of the most difficult things to keep tidy is the group of index.dat files that Windows maintains. They often contain a history of web sites visited, files downloaded, searches conducted, etc., even after you clear IE's history and cache files via IE's options or the Internet Control Panel applet. Because these files are kept open by the Windows operating system, normal user and software methods cannot delete or clean them. They may also take up additional space as they grow.

Last year, Dennis Kennedy and I were discussing this issue, when he told me about the free Index.dat Suite. Per the application web site:

"Index.dat Suite is a rather unique program that allows you not only to delete the index.dat files, temporary internet files, temp files, cookies and history, but it also allows you to view the index.dat files on your system.

Index.dat Suite's current features include:

  • View and delete History
  • View and delete Temp files
  • View and delete Recent Documents
  • Delete Typed URL's
  • Auto-generation of batch file to assist in deleting the index.dat files in DOS.
  • Optional add to RunOnce registry key
  • Optional deletion of swap file (9x users only)
  • Optional defrag after file deletion
  • Full application logging"
As such, I would put this software into the category of "Use with caution."
Topic(s):   Trick or Treat
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January 12, 2005

FeedDemon 1.5 Beta Available

I chose FeedDemon as the best RSS Reader or News Aggregator for a prior Law Office Computing Shootout. It packs a ton of useful features into a very intuitive, fast, and polished package. One of the drawbacks of the version 1.1x series was the lack of synchronization between your PC-based FeedDemon channels and online RSS reader services. Thus moving between PCs caused certain challenges with maintaining your feed lists and syndicated content.

If you're an existing FeedDemon user, you just might want to check out the long list of new features and fixes in the current 1.5 beta release, officially designated the "FeedDemon 1.5 Release Candidate 1a (RC1a)". First, there's new integration with Bloglines for feed synchronization, including instructions. Synchronization support for NewsGator Online Services was also added in a similar fashion.

Other new features include an "Export All Groups to OPML File" item added to the File menu. This will create a single, categorized OPML file containing all of your subscriptions, so you don't have to manually export each channel group separately. Starting FeedDemon with the command line option "/ua" performs an "Update all groups" as soon as FeedDemon starts. Now you don't have to wait for each group to update individually nor invoke the "Update all groups" feature manually. New styles were also added, so you have more choices in finding a display format more to your liking.

These are evolutionary refinements to make a great RSS reader even better. Keep in mind this is a pre-release or beta, so expect some glitches. Given the relative tech edge of many of this blog's audience, somehow I don't think this will deter you much.

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips
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Some of the Best Software You Never Tried (Part 1)

I like free, useful software. (Who doesn't?) I thought I'd share some of the ones I've used that may be off the beaten track for some folks, but well worth a look. Rather than try to cram them all into one post, I'll feature them one at a time. First up:

Maxthon (formerly MyIE2):

Pure and simple, Maxthon is a power browser's browser. One might say I live on the web, and Maxthon has more features than I'll ever need -- so that's saying something. It has the most refined and featured tabbing system of any free browser I've seen. I can drag tabs around, control their width, have multiple tab rows, or just one long one using left/right scroll buttons. Maxthon pops open new tabs faster than IE opens new windows. When searching with Google, I can leave the results window open in the first tab, and launch the linked sites in other tabs without losing Google's page. With tabs, there's no more clutter on the Windows taskbar from multiple open IE windows. It have it set to minimize to the system tray to stay out of sight until I need it.

I really like its robust and customizable built-in ActiveX filter, pop-up blocker, and ad-blocker, which even blocks floating ads. My web surfing is more enjoyable and a bit faster since I don't have to wait for ads to load or close extra pop-ups. I can save multiple open sites as a "Group" -- perfect for saving research sessions with related open pages. It automatically reloads missing pictures -- no more little red x's or missing picture icons unless there's a broken link in the page.

Mouse gestures for navigation are incredible. It's like tabbed browsing -- once you've used them, you'll never want to go back. Maxthon's Alias feature gives me ActiveWords-like functionality by assigning memorable aliases to URLs. For example, I simply type "g" and press Enter to go to http://www.google.com, or "wrt" to bring up my Linksys wireless router's config page. It also sports a built-in search bar (customizable for virtually any search engine of choice) and an auto-highlighter for search terms.

It's skinnable, and it's self-cleaning: When closing Maxthon, I have it set to automatically clear its undo list, address list, history, search bar history, cache, cookies, and form data. About the only thing it doesn't clean is the notorious index.dat files, which are kept open by the Windows operating system. (I have another program for doing this, but that's an upcoming post.) It also sports an Undo feature with a site history for the current session. If you accidentally close a tab, Undo lets you choose which closed web site to reopen. This has come in handy more times than I can remember.

As you may have surmised, it takes a little while to get accustomed to and master all of this functionality, but it's well worth the effort. Now that I have, I'm so much more efficient and productive in accessing and organizing online information.

Yes, Maxthon is based upon IE, let's get that out of the way. However, its developers have thoughtfully closed some of the security holes, and Maxthon is pretty stable for a browser. Maxthon also uses very few system resources compared to IE. No browser is 100% secure, not even Firefox, and I haven't seen adware, spyware, or viruses on my systems in a very, very long time (and I scan regularly with multiple programs). I don't believe I've been lucky in this regard: I've also set up IE and Maxthon to be selective (e.g., blocking or prompting for active content) and it definitely helps to know what not to click on while surfing.

Because it's IE-based, Maxthon works directly with my saved IE Favorites, so I only have one list of bookmarks to deal with. Because it's IE-based, I don't have to install all-new plugins to work with standard web apps like QuickTime, Shockwave Flash, Acrobat Reader, and the like. Maxthon can handle sites designed for IE, so I don't have to swap between a non-IE and IE browser. The last time I checked, Maxthon does not support the newest version of the Google Toolbar (although a prior version still works). This might be a downside for others, but not for me. Maxthon provides very similar, if not better, functionality. Maxthon also supports over 400+ Maxthon plugins as well as many IE plugins.

I've tried IE, Netscape, Firefox, and Mozilla, and Maxthon just fits the way I like to power browse. Firefox, while lean, fast, and arguably more secure, is still too primitive for my taste and needs, and it's a hassle to manage different plugins and bookmark lists. Maxthon is fairly fast and stable, and its numerous features are polished and highly customizable. It's also actively developed, with frequent version updates. Rarely have I ever been this pleased with any piece of software, free or otherwise. Maxthon just lets me surf my way. Not surprisingly, that's also Maxthon's tagline: "The way we surf the world."

Topic(s):   Trick or Treat  |  Web Wizardry
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January 09, 2005

Microsoft Now Offering Beta AntiSpyware

As I mentioned back in October, Microsoft was planning to offer antispyware and antivirus solutions, but hadn't offered any dates. Recognizing the enormity of the spyware problem, Microsoft has since acquired Giant AntiSpyware and is now offering its own beta version via downloads at the "Microsoft® Windows AntiSpyware (Beta)" download page. I've never heard of nor used the Giant software, so unfortunately I can't comment on that product's details or effectiveness. From the Microsoft download page, this was just published on January 7th, 2005.

This CNET News.com article provides much more detail, including Microsoft's quick actions to provide a beta shortly after the acquisition, and additional discussion regarding Microsoft's overall strategy and timing for offering antispyware and antivirus to its customers. I applaud Microsoft's efforts, but wonder how complete and therefore, effective, they will be. At this point, keep in mind it's a beta.

Something is probably better than nothing, as long as its users don't gain a false sense of security -- no one thing provides 100% effective security, simply because security is a process, not a product. Products are tools to implement security measures. There are a number of different antivirus and antispyware programs available on the market. If Microsoft adopts a "single solution" for each, it paints a big red target on them for the malware developers and hackers to attack and exploit, much like the built-in Windows XP firewall (which again, is better than having nothing in place, yet an incomplete solution by itself). This isn't Microsoft's fault per se, it's just that the dominant player is normally the one on whom the malware developers focus their attacks. Microsoft's security record is also well known.

At least the Microsoft name is also well known (although I've never heard of Giant), and it sounds like they are consciously trying to provide solutions which help both their customers and themselves. Other antispyware providers may not: Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal offers similar advice, "Beware of antispyware programs offered via pop-up ads or e-mail spam. Some of these actually are malicious, and will install spyware and adware, rather than expunging it." So don't forget about the well-known and often-recommended spyware solutions. Lastly, it's important to recognize that many computer users are, in themselves, a weak link -- they introduce spyware and other malware to their systems by not being sufficiently self-informed, and thus are unaware of best practices. Check out my prior post, "Practicing Safe Hex", for some great ideas and linked resources. It's an eye-opener.

[Update 1.11.05: Per the comment attached to this post, check out Flexbeta's antispyware comparison review or its printable version. They put the new MS AntiSpyware through its paces, head-to-head against Ad-Aware and Spybot S&D. Their results, while quite encouraging, emphasize an often-made key point: No one antispyware program will detect and clean everything from your system. Thus you may want to consider using multiple antispyware programs to double-check your computer and catch the malware the others left behind. Also, Flexbeta indicates MS may offer their AntiSpyware on a subscription basis, so there may be a cost factor after the beta period has concluded.

In any event, it's good to know there's another antispyware option with potential, hopefully one which will also play nice with Microsoft's operating systems and applications. I found it interesting that the CNET News.com article referenced above included this tidbit: "She [Amy Carroll, director of product management for Microsoft's Security, Business and Technology unit] pointed to a compatibility issue that Microsoft experienced just after the launch of Windows XP Service Pack 2 as partially caused by a hidden spyware application." So it's probably safe to say that Microsoft is attempting to offer a win-win for both their efforts as well as those of their customers. Like antivirus solutions, antispyware needs regular updating for detecting and removing new malware. Should Microsoft charge a subscription fee for a commercial grade product, it's right in line with industry norms. It also increases its chances of being actively developed and supported. In comparison, look what happened with Internet Explorer's stagnation, which was offered for no additional charge.]

[Update 1.13.05: Walt Mossberg at the WSJ chimes in with some mixed comments on MS AntiSpyware: "Unfortunately, the company's first free security program has some serious flaws and lapses. I've been testing Microsoft's antispyware software, called simply Microsoft AntiSpyware, and I can't recommend it, in its present form, over the leading third-party antispyware program I have favored, Webroot's Spy Sweeper." He concludes, "It's good that Microsoft is finally offering users tools to protect their Windows computers. But it's going to have to do much better, and it's going to have to avoid the perception that it's using security as a tool to promote or favor its own products."]

Topic(s):   Privacy & Security
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January 07, 2005

New E-Discovery Blog

I was all set to write up a nice blog post about Preston Gate's new Electronic Discovery Law blog, but saw that my good friend, Dennis Kennedy, had already done so in this great post.

To that, all I can say is "Ditto" and his post is worth a read along with visiting Preston Gate's new blog. Per the site, it's "a blog on legal issues, news, and best practices relating to the discovery of electronically stored information published by the Document Analysis Technology Group at Preston Gates & Ellis LLP." They're off to a good start, with good EDD categories and content already in place in advance of their official launch on Monday.

I agree with Dennis that I'm glad they've included an RSS feed. So few large law firms have gotten "it" that blog and web sites by themselves are only half of the equation. The other half, and perhaps the only one that really matters to many diehard blog readers, is to be able to receive the content via RSS (or Atom) so they don't have to visit hundreds of different web sites to keep themselves informed. Other firms, webmasters, and bloggers take note: If I don't have a blog in my RSS reader, then I rarely visit it -- and that's usually only when another blogger or online article has posted a link to it within a useful context.

Electronic Discovery is growing in importance so rapidly there is still a big need to find good online resources and track developments. Dennis' post also provides links to several other good EDD blogs and sites, a number of which I've also mentioned previously.

I also agree with Dennis with the professional manner in which I was contacted to check out their blog. I wasn't asked to provide a link or a post. There was none of the "I already posted a link to your blog, so please post a link to ours" ploys. Instead, I received a simple, elegant, e-mail stating they had come across my blog with a nice compliment, informing me of their blog and some highlights, and asking me to check it out when I had a chance. Even if it was a form e-mail, Bravo for thought put into it, and welcome to the Blogosphere.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery
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January 03, 2005

A Hearty Welcome for Jim Calloway's Blog

Now here's a great way to start the new year in blog style: "Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips Blog" was just launched yesterday. Jim is a Law Practice Management veteran: He's the Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association Management Assistance Program, current Chair of the ABA TECHSHOW Board, frequent presenter and author, and more.

I've enjoyed the privilege of working with Jim when I served with him on the TECHSHOW Board. He's wanted to do this for some time, so I expect he'll have plenty of tips raring to go. Jim excels with his common-sense approach, and breaks down practice management and technology topics into plain language. Thus I have no doubt his blog will be another great resource for law practice tips, management ideas, and other insights. Welcome to the Blogosphere, Jim!

Topic(s):   Blogging Tips  |  Law Practice Management  |  Legal Technology
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January 02, 2005

Finding Your Way in the New Year: Better Maps

With the world getting smaller, it just seems we're traveling more. And while I have a GPS for my PDA, I don't always have time to load up the necessary maps, and I still like to have printed maps with turn-by-turn instructions.

Sure, old standbys like Mapquest and Yahoo! Maps are still free and easy to use. However, I like to have more information at my fingertips. For my preference, I've found that MSN's maps and instructions appear to include more details than some of the other sites. I'm in the Midwest, where we arguably have two main seasons: winter and construction. While MSN can't help me with the former, it sure helps with the latter: MSN embeds a fair amount of planned road construction data into its maps and driving instructions, so I'll know where the trouble spots are, and how long they'll run. I like the scalability of the MSN maps, and it just seems to be a more polished mapping service. Sure, it's a big commercial for Microsoft's mapping software, but who cares if it meets my needs and it's free?

Then there is my latest find, Map24.com. The coolest and most useful feature is its Java-based interactive maps. Say what you will about Java (get the latest Java runtime downloads due to its recently reported security hole in older versions), but the end result here is pretty slick. Map24 features very quick and smoothly-zooming maps, and some interesting toolbars containing buttons for: Zoom in/out, navigating to the map's origin point, brief zoom out for orienting yourself, pan vs. centering modes, print currently viewed map, and maximizing the map to fill your entire screen from corner to corner (this last one is a really nice feature I wish all mapping sites would adopt). You can also turn on a nifty distance measuring tool, so you can plot the distance between a series of map points. I also like its feature for displaying gas stations. Like I said, this is a very interactive map, which is by far Map24's strongest feature.

Naturally, you can print the driving directions, and the print options give you some finer control over the print options. For example, you can specify that it find a long list of various landmarks along the way, such as airports, car rentals, court houses, lodging, and a lot more. You can choose between the quickest or shortest routes. There are four highway preferences: "Avoid", "Less", "Normal", and "More". In the "Don't Use" category, you can tell Map24 not to use toll roads, highways, ferries, and train ferries if you wish. For average speed settings, you can keep the defaults, or change them for Interstate, Major Road, Minor Road, and Ferry -- presumably this affects the time calculations. The nicely-formatted printed directions even include a turn direction icon next to the step number, so you can easily see which way to turn at a quick glance.

Now, for all these slick features, there are some trade-offs. First, while you can just take all of the default options, more choices means it can take you slightly longer to fill out all the information to get to the hardcopy. In particular, the directions print link is not immediately obvious -- it's embedded in a list, with no separate printer icon. If you're in a real hurry, some of the other map sites mentioned above might be a better option, especially if you're more familiar with them. Also, I found Map24's default options do not print out the mini-maps next to each driving step. I really like to see those, especially if it's a complex set of highway ramps or intersections. Instead, the directions only include detailed maps of the beginning and ending points if checked. I did not see a way to include the interim points' maps. Map24's web site is also peppered with banner ads. While I like to support useful free sites, I'd encourage people not to click on at least some of the ads displayed. Let's just say that I've seen free Smileys cause a lot of mischief for unsuspecting users.

So, for interactive maps when I need to look around an area, I like Map24's approach. It just needs some refinements as I've mentioned. Overall, I've been pleasantly surprised by Microsoft's MSN Maps and Directions.

Still, the best thing I like about the Web is that it's a giant tool box -- and it's finer than finding a hammer or a screwdriver. I like being able to find just the right tool for the right job. So if I don't like one screwdriver, there's usually a bunch more out there with different features. Thus this small sampling of available map sites is a good example of finding more content-rich sites with just a minimum of effort.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets  |  Trick or Treat
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