Avast Free Antivirus — The Good & The Bad

PCWorld recently rated Avast as the top free antivirus program. They found it to be easy to use with speedy scans and a set-and-forget usability. They also found that it performs well at thwarting viruses and malware with little impact on system resources. I agree entirely with their assessment, but after having installed Avast on several home systems, there are a few caveats that you should be aware of.

The first is that this is the only free antivirus program that I know of that makes you register. If you don’t register Avast, it will stop working after 30 days. Even if you do register, you will have to renew your registration every year. This registration is a bit of a pain, not just because it is an extra step, but because if you don’t register or update your registration regularly, the program stops working, leaving you unprotected. To their credit, Avast will pop up reminders about the registration, so be sure to perform the registration if you decide to use this product.

One more caveat about the registration is that at times, it seems to act quirky. You fill out the entire form and instead of accepting it, Avast presents you with the blank form again…obviously a bit aggravating. Also, I ran into one computer that simply would not run Avast, no matter how hard we tried.

Like most of the other free antivirus programs, when you attempt to download the free version, Avast will try several times during the download process to get you to install the paid version instead. They will also try to get you to download other programs like the Google Toolbar with your Avast installation. This is not bad; it is just something you should be aware of.

One other thing you should be aware of: Avast will talk to you. The announcements are quite loud and I, personally, find them a bit disturbing. You may find them useful, but it not, you can turn off the voice notifications in the Settings menu.

One big plus for Avast is that they actually offer technical support for their free version. they post their tech support number for the free version prominently on their website. It is 877-877-9362. I haven’t tried calling this tech support number, but it’s comforting to know that you can get help if you need it.

Link: http://www.avast.com

If you don’t want to be bothered with the registration, the pitch for the paid version, or the add-on programs, try Microsoft Security Essentials, which is truly a free antivirus program with no strings attached.

 

 

 

Kindle with Special Offers

I reviewed the first Amazon Kindle in 2007 and I also reviewed the Kindle DX, a subsequent version with a larger screen. In both instances, I liked the device. Yet even though I am an avid reader, I wasn’t ready to buy one. The original Kindle cost $400. The Kindle DX sells for $489.  Those prices were simply too high for my pocketbook.  Recently, however, when a new version of the Kindle called the Kindle with Special Offers became available at a discounted price of $114, the Kindle became much more appealing and I decided to take the plunge.

After using the Kindle with Special Offers for several months, I am loving it. This device is made for just two things:  downloading books and reading. It performs these tasks very well. The screen is easy-to-see, the text size is adjustable. It is Wi-Fi only, but if you have a wireless network in your home, you can download books directly to the Kindle in minutes. If you don’t have a wireless network, you can choose and order your books on your computer and sync them with the Kindle. If you don’t have a computer, you are still covered; you can head over to McDonald’s or any other free Wi-Fi restaurant and purchase your books online there. There are plenty of free books. The Amazon store has all the latest best sellers plus 900,000 other books available for purchase. Most public libraries have already instituted a lending process for Kindle books or are in the process of doing so. You can also borrow Kindle books from other Kindle users.

Once the books are on your Kindle you can read anywhere. This Kindle holds over 3,000 books, so you will never run out of reading material. You can read all day if you like because battery life is excellent and the size and weight make this Kindle easy to hold. The screen uses an eInk pearl technology which is much easier on the eyes than a backlit reader like the iPad. With this type of screen you can also read in bright sunlight. You can adjust both the size of the text and the font to suit your eyes. You can look up definitions of words, annotate the text, and highlight passages.

The biggest negative is that this Kindle doesn’t have a touch screen. You have to navigate with a 4-way scroll bar which is used to move up and down choices. You press a center button to confirm your choices. Compared to using a touch screen, it’s cumbersome, but it is also the cheapest way to get a good ereader.

The other reason that this Kindle is so inexpensive is that it has Special Offers, which is a new type of advertising.  When you are done reading, the Kindle goes to sleep and has a screen saver that promotes these special offers. There is also a small strip showing the same ad in a much smaller version at the bottom of the Home page, where you see you list of books and choose which one you want to read.

The quality of the ads and their presentation really surprised me. Since the ads are black and white there are no brightly colored ads. There are no animated ads. In fact, the ads are really not at all distracting. There are no ads of any sort when you are reading a book. On top of that these special offers are actually pretty good. I have already used several of them, including getting a $10 credit for using a Visa card for an Amazon purchase and getting $10 off a $35 toy, which just happened to be the one my granddaughter wanted for her birthday. So thanks to my Kindle with Special Offers, the price of her present at Amazon when down from $35 to $15 ….a pretty good bargain.

The Kindle with Special Offers has a lot of extras. It can play audio books. If the book publisher permits it, this Kindle can use its text-to-speech feature to read to you. It plays music, has a headphone jack, and even lets you share passages with friends on Facebook and Twitter. It also allows you to get on the Internet to surf the Web, but with the small screen and difficult navigation, you won’t be inclined to use that more than once in a blue moon.

Many tablet PCs can also be ebook readers. You can read ebooks on your computer. You can also read ebooks on most smartphones, but the Kindle with Special Offers makes the reading experience more like reading a real book than any of these other devices.

It will be interesting to see if Amazon puts out a new version of the Kindle for the Christmas selling season this year. In the meantime, however, if you don’t want to wait, at $114 the Kindle with Special Offers is a bargain reading device.

Saddened by the Death of the HP Touchpad and WebOS

This week there have been three significant announcements by major players in the tech world. Google announced that it would purchase Motorola Mobility, HP announced that it may be getting out of the PC business, and HP also killed the Touchpad Tablet, the Palm Pre smartphone, and the whole Palm WebOS operating system.

Of these announcements, the one that moved me emotionally was the last one. I am saddened by death of the Palm WebOS operating system. I tech edited the book “Palm Pre for Dummies”, so I really got into the nitty-gritty of the WebOS operating system and I loved it. It is easy to use and full of great features. I actually like it better than the current version of Microsoft’s mobile operating system and it is a good alternative to the current version of  Apple’s iOS operating system.

The failure of the HP Touchpad Tablet saddens me even more. We need someone to develop a  good tablet to be competitive with the Apple iPad. So far none is appearing. Even those by major players, like this Touchpad and the Blackberry Playbook seem to be total flops. They got in the market too late. their prices were too high, and their designs were not up to par with the iPad. For the average consumer less competition means fewer choices and high prices. It is inconceivable to me that no major tech company can give Apple’s iPad a run for the money.

My last hope is the Amazon tablet. Although there has been no formal announcement of this product yet, I believe that Amazon is working on it and that it will make its appearance before the Christmas selling season this year.

Google Toolbar & Firefox 5

A few week’s ago, the folks at Mozilla came out with a new version of their Firefox web browser – Firefox 5. They declared that Firefox 4, which I was using, had security holes and recommended that everyone upgrade to version 5 immediately.So I upgraded to Firefox 5.

A problem was immediatly apparent. There were no updates for several of the add-ons that I was using. The most important one to me was the Google Toolbar which I used to access my Google Bookmarks.

I could still access my Google Bookmarks by going to the Google Bookmarks webpage, but it simply wasn’t as convenient as having an icon right on my toolbar for my bookmarks. I tried putting my bookmark page in the Firefox favorite bar, but again, it wasn’t as convenient as having an icon that would drop down a list of my bookmarks.

The solution was to install an add-on called the  Compatibility Reporter. This allowed me to install and use the Google Toolbar without a problem.

I was pretty happy until I realized that Google did not seem to be as punctual as usual with an update for the Google Toolbar for Firefox 5. A little research gave me the answer. Google was not going to do an update. There would be no Google Toolbar for Firefox 5. Google claims that the “new browsers’ are capable enough on their own and don’t need an add-on like the Google toolbar.” But I was a Google Toolbar and Google Bookmark user from Day 1. I love the Google Toolbar. It not only lets me search quickly, but it gives me quick links to my Google websites. It highlights chosen words. It translates. It auto-fills forms. It lets me share info with others quickly.  I also love Firefox and have accumulated a bunch of wonderful add-ons that I use everyday. Although my work-around withe the Compatibility Reporter is currently working, as new Firefox versions appear, this may not work anymore.

I am both angry and disappointed. What would make Google do this? Unless I am missing something, Google must be trying to get  users away from Firefox in hopes of having them change to Chrome, Google’s browser. If the reson that Google gave for discontinuing Google Toolbar, “that new browsers are capable enough without their toolbar”, then they will discontinue the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer as well.

If this means an end to Google Toolbar, it is a sad day for all those who have come to rely on the convience that the Google Toolbar offers.

 

The Apple Lion is Roaring

Today, I am uttering words that I never thought would pass my lips. “I WANT A NEW MAC”.

Although most of my work is done on a PC, I have always owned a Mac computer, as well. My Mac is an older machine, but it is good for answering questions abut the Mac and its operating system. It always seemed to me that the Mac was just a slightly different way of doing things. Even though I owned one, I never really longed for one. That is, until now.

I recently got to try out Lion, the new Mac OSX operating system. I was amazed by the changes that Apple came up with for this operating system. It provides a totally new way of doing things. When used with Apple’s new Magic Trackpad (a touchpad that attaches wirelessly through Bluetooth and sits next to your keyboard), Lion is nothing short of fantastic.

The surface of the Magic Trackpad is one large button, so you can click and double-click anywhere. You can pinch to zoom just like you can on an iPad or iPhone. You can rotate things with your fingertips. You can scroll up and down the page by using your fingers on the trackpad. You can even switch between applications by simply tapping four fingers on the pad.

Apple has always provided a stable, pretty-much virus-free operating system, but Lion has added a certain pizzaz. It makes computing easier without the use of a touch screen. I WANT ONE. As others discover Lion, there may be a big move to the Mac.

You can bet that the team at Microsoft who is working on Windows 8 had a big awakening when Lion came out. Now they have to come up with something just a little better and that will be a gargantuan task!

Thunderbolt — Great HTC Phone on Verizon

The HTC Thunderbolt is, without a doubt, one of the best smartphones in the market today.  It is the first 4G phone that runs on the new Verizon LTE network. If you don’t know wat 4G LTE is, it can be summed up in one word — FAST. With download speeds of 5 Mbps to 12 Mbps and upload speeds of 2 Mbps to 5 Mbps is the fastest smartphone that we’ve reviewed. No waiting for web pages or directions…everything appears quickly and easily.

At 4.75 x 2.44 x 0.56 inches, the Thunderbolt is on the large size for a cell phone. That size, however, gives you a large 4.3-inch TFT LCDscreen. The Thunderbolt also has an FM radio and a kickstand that holds it upright. It runs the 2.1 Android operating system, which is excellent and very customizable.

If you like a big phone with a large screen, the HTC Thunderbolt is the best device of this type in Verizon’s current lineup. The clear and responsive screen, good storage capabilities, useful email interface, excellent music player, and FM radio make it hard to beat. The kickstand adds even more functionality. It is blazingly fast on Verizon’s new 4G LTE network and has the ability to perform voice and data tasks simultaneously.

Although battery life could be better, most average users will find it adequate. Verizon will be releasing several new 4G phones in the near future, so you may want to see what these phones will offer, but my guess is that the HTC Thunderbolt will be able to hold its own against upcoming competition.  If the Verizon 4G service is available in your area, this is a great phone.

The Good

  • Fast 4G data speeds
  • Simultaneous voice and data
  • Large screen
  • Ample storage
  • Good camera
  • Good social media integration
  • Very customizable
  • Good email interface and search
  • Very good music player
  • FM radio

The Bad

  • Only fair battery life
  • Heavy
  • Can’t charge while using the kickstand
  • Ending letters of labels on the screen sometimes cut off
  • No HDMI port

Check out my full review with pictures at the Hardware Secrets website.


Windows 7– Where is mail & calendar?

As more and more people migrate to Windows 7, they are finding that Windows 7 is a stripped-down version of Windows. That’s not necessarily bad. It means that you don’t have to have a lot programs you don’t want on your computer.

However, it also means that you must download and install the programs that you need or want. This added step is a no-brainer for the Internet savvy, but a challenge for a newbie. I wish that Microsoft would have shipped Windows 7 with a list of the available Microsoft programs along with some sort of a check box and an automatic download and installation. Well, I’m sure some ingenious third party will develop such a way to add the programs you need.

In the meantime, you can surf over to Microsoft Live Essentials to download the free programs that you want. Available programs include:

  • Mail, the Microsoft email program which is the successor to  Outlook Express and  Windows Vista’s mail program. This program lets you access mail from several email different programs like Yahoo!Mail and Gmail. It also includes an updated version of the Calendar program that was available in previous versions of Windows.
  • Messenger — an instant messenger program that let’s you chat with online friends. It also lets you share photos and send SMS messages.
  • Photo Gallery — Several essential applications that were always a part of Windows have been left out of Windows 7. The Photo Gallery is one of theses. It’s a free easy to use photo manager/editor.
  • Movie Maker — is another program that used to be a part of Windows. This new version lets you put together and edit movies and slideshows and will even help you post them to the web. Although not as good as some commercially available programs like Adobe Premier Essentials, it will do the trick for simple video tasks… and it’s free.
  • Live Writer has a name that’s a bit confusing. You may think that it is a word processing program, but in fact it is a blogging program. If you are a blogger or a wannabe blogger, take a look. It’s a cool program. If you are not into blogging, take a pass on this one.
  • Family Safety is the program that will help protect your kids online. Like several others in this list, this program was built into previous versions of Windows, but does not come with Windows 7. It will let you monitor and block websites, limit searches and decide who your kids can communicate with on the Web.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials. I don’t know why, but the free Microsoft Security Essentials is in a different place at http://www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/ This is Microsoft’s new free anti-virus and anti-spyware program. It is rated as highly as many of the anti-virus programs that you have to pay for, so it is a good deal.
  • Windows Live Toolbar is an extra toolbar that is added to your browser. This toolbar can only be used with Internet Explorer. It gives you quick links to Bing, Microsoft’s new search engine as well as links to other Microsoft Live services.

You don’t have to have Window 7 to use most of these new programs. You can try them on a computer running Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (32-bit edition only), Windows Vista (32-bit or 64-bit editions). The Windows Live Movie Maker and the slide show feature of Windows Live Photo Gallery are not supported on Windows XP.

The Pope Tweets About New Vatican Website

If you don’t use Twitter, you are really behind the times as this week even the 84-year-old Pope is Tweeting.  Pope Benedict XVI used Twitter to announce his new website, The Vatican Today site at www.news.va. As seen in the video below, the Pope used an iPad to press the button to launch the new site which gives current news on Vatican events.

This proves that you are never too old for technology and that even the age-old Catholic church realizes that hi-tech is where it is all happening!!

LiveBrush Free Art Creation Program

If you have always wanted to create fantastic pieces of art — this is your chance. This free program called LiveBrush lets you create art with simple gestures. The program has a lot of depth, but you can start simply and grow into the program as you like. You can get pretty sophisticated if you want to take the time.  It is amazing that a program of this quality could be free.

You need to install Adobe Air to run this program. This is a free and safe  program from Adobe. You will be prompted to install it when you install LiveBrush. Check out this YouTube video to get a feel for what this program can do.

 

Link: LiveBrush


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