Monday, November 9, 2009

Top Portable Application Suites

PortableApps.comImage by valentin.d via Flickr

I've been working with portable applications for too many years to count. Since I started I've written a help file which tries to explain the basics and gives brief reviews of a few launchers. At one point I started using LupoPensuite which was based on the ASuite launcher. As I noted in the my help file, ASuite has some problems, which is why I stopped using it. Anything based on Asuite, including the recent runner up in Lifehacker's Poll of best portable suites, LiberKey, seems to put all of the applications in an apps folder with subsequent applications in a separate folder. This is fine if you never look at the underlying structure of the directories, but if you care at all, it's a mess. Having hundreds of folders, each a seaparate application, to deal with when they are not categorized is a recipe for disaster.

The best part about LiberKey, in my opinion, is that it updates the suite and the applications automatically. This is an excellent feature and should be part of every launcher suite.

Lifehackers first place portable application suite,, is an excellent platform, but it has the same problem as the ASuite launcher; all the applications must be in a subfolders of the portableapps folder. Again there is no categorization and worse there is no way to categorize the menu system itself (ASuite breaks down everything into categories in the menu system, even if they are a hodgepodge in reality). There is no doubt that the format is excellent (.paf.exe), but the fact that it will display all .exe files (although a recent change allows you to hide some applications you don't wish to display, this is a slightly backwards way of doing things in my opinion) in the main directory of each program makes adding portable applications that are not in a portable wrapper from their website confusing. Many times executables, like config apps will show up even if you don't want them to.

I found that the PStart menu system, although not bundled with a slew of software, is highly preferable. It allows you to specify your own directory structure on the portable device you are using. You can also decide which files you want to show up in the menu system. It certainly doesn't have the glitz or glamour that portableapps does, but it is much easier to configure and use, especially when you have more than 15 or so apps. I have 8 gigabytes worth of applications from all over the web on my stick. Pstart keeps everything categorized both in the menu and on my stick in the correct directories. All the portable programs I find work with this menu. (the only trouble I've run into so far has been portableapps .paf files of Google Chrome and Skype, both of these had to be installed in an upper level directory because the path was too long where I wanted to install them - u:\utility cd\usbportable\internet\browsers\googlechrome and u:\utility cd\usbportable\internet\misc\skype. They ended up in u:\)

Bottom line is that if I could have voted for PStart in the lifehacker poll, I would have, unfortunately PStart is not a suite, just a launcher.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

AVG Upgrade to 9.0 and the Blue Screen Of Death

AVG Internet SecurityImage via Wikipedia

I use AVG anti-virus / anti-malware software, among others, on my work computer. I like to keep everything up to date to make sure my computer doesn't get infected. So when the AVG software popped up a notice saying I could get a free upgrade to version 9 from version 8.5, I went for it - my bad!

AVG is excellent software, don't get me wrong. But when I upgraded to version 9 (which is said to be 6x faster and uses less resources than 8.x), it recommended uninstalling my other software, Symantec AV Corporate edition (which my college requires) and Sophos AV (which I was testing).

Once I uninstalled those pieces of software (this should be done automatically from the installer - I had to remove the software and restart the installer). I restarted the installer which then upgraded my version 8.5 to version 9.00. That's when my problems started.

I was going through the various components (it looked really really good - even had it's own firewall - which turns off windows firewall BTW), when I came upon the Rootkit scanner. I decided to try it out - That's when I got the Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD)! I recovered from that and started researching the problem. AVG had some suggestions on their website, which turned out to be okay. Microsoft came back with a message after the error reporting went in that I had a bad driver (hardware or software) on my system.

When I came in this morning - another BSOD awaited me. After recovering from that I saw that a message I sent to AVG tech support was waiting for me in my inbox. I started to answer it when I got another BSOD. I restored my system to an earlier state (before the upgrade) and finished answering the email to AVG then started straitening out my system.

I'm hoping that AVG will be able to solve this quickly, because what I saw of the 9.00 version looked really nice and I like AVG a lot better than the Symantec product we are using here.
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Monday, November 2, 2009

Rootkit detectors

I work at a cancer center as the IT guy.  One of the things I run into regularly is infected computers.  Many times these infections are NOT minor, so I've collected a slew of tools to deal with them.  One type of infection is the Rootkit.  I have a bunch of FREE tools I use to clean these.  These are portable tools, so that you don't have install anything on the computer in question.

A rootkit is a program or programs designed to make it so the user does not relize the system is infected in some way.  Rootkits are tenacious, they tend to install themselves in system files and rewrite themselves into other files when they are attempted to be cleaned by normal methods.  There are many methods by which infection occurs and that is another blog.  Because of the way a rootkit works it makes it very difficult to get rid of.

F-Secure CorporationImage via Wikipedia

F-Secure has an excellent program called Blacklight.  It is very easy to use, just accept the caveats and click scan.

Sophos also makes a great application.  Their anti-rootkit program does require you to supply some basic information before downloading here, but it is worth it.  The sophos software is relatively easy to use just choose the type of scan and click scan.

Panda anti rootkit, Run Pavark.exe.  Accept the first screen, check deep scan, click scan, this will schedule a scan the next time your system restarts (you can restart right away or later).

Spybot Search & Destroy 1.6.2,  has a rootkit section.  Note that you must choose "advanced" from the mode menu, then choose rootkit scan.

Gmer is a more complicated application.  It is extremely good, but is aimed at the information Technology professional or at least someone more conversant with computers.  The GUI (Graphical User Interface) is not as easy to use as the other programs.

With anti-rootkits you should run at least 3 before feeling safe.  Some of these applications will identify false positives - things that seem like rootkits but are not - so be careful.  After running your anti-rootkit programs, if you found something, be sure to run an antivirus /malware application with up to date virus definition file to be sure to get rid of any vestiges that were left behind.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Twitter - Startup #11 - Other resources

There are many other twitter resources users should be aware of. Many of these I have used in putting together the previous 10 blog entries on twitter. Here are just a few of them:

MakeUseOf Guide to Twitter
My Twittertools bookmarks
Twitter for Business, Twitter for Friends , by Mark Murnahan (@murnahan)
Presentation on Starting to use twitter
Just about anything on about twitter

Thanks to Ahad Bokhari (@featureblend) for suggesting this series to me.