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Windows Secrets Newsletter • Issue 170 • 2008-10-09 • Circulation: over 400,000
Table of contents
INTRODUCTION: Fred Langa "un-retires" to fix your problems
TOP STORY: Bugs and lack of apps plague 64-bit users
INSIDER TRICKS: Find out who's doing what on your computer
WACKY WEB WEEK: Forget Freddy, it's a nightmare on Windows Street!
LANGALIST PLUS: Find the perfect Web/e-mail hosting service
WOODY'S WINDOWS: Slimmed-down Windows XP delivers big benefits
PERIMETER SCAN: Free troubleshooting tool adds network tracking
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Fred Langa 'un-retires' to fix your problems
By Brian Livingston
When life throws you a curve ball, you should try to hit a home run — and that's what Fred Langa is doing by re-committing himself to help his loyal readers.
Fred wrote for Windows Secrets off and on from November 2006 to May 2008, but the retirement he announced at the end of that period didn't work out, so he's back, starting today.
As you may know, after years of yeoman's duty at Byte Magazine and CMP Publications, Fred wrote his own e-mail newsletter, the LangaList, twice a week for almost 10 years. His newsletter and ours merged in 2006, and he became the editor of Windows Secrets, continuing to write a column nearly every week.
Fred's devotion to his readers is legendary. Even when he went on his dream summer hiatus in 2007, riding his motorcycle in a big loop around the U.S. and Canada, he spent time helping others. He chose four Windows Secrets readers around the continent to receive a full day of his personal help, free of charge. (His eight-part series documenting these Langa Housecalls is on our site.)
Fred, at left in motorcycle helmet, found that retirement wasn't in the cards this year, however. As he's written in several blog posts, around the time of his 35th wedding anniversary he was hit with an unexpected divorce. He attributed the split to the LangaList's "insane workload" of "60–80 hours of work per week." But, whatever the reason, retirement was no longer a financial option.
So Fred has rejoined the rest of us in the working class. Everyone at Windows Secrets is celebrating that he's with us again. But our excitement is nothing compared with the outpouring we received from subscribers when they heard the news. I think Phil Waddle of Tavistock, England, said it best:
His columns will appear in Windows Secrets' paid content, where he can share in the financial contributions that our paying subscribers kick in to keep us wretched scribblers alive. I hope you'll enjoy Fred's all-new material.
If you're a free subscriber, you can support Fred's work — and get 12 months of all our paid content — with no fixed fee. We accept any contribution, whatever it's worth to you. We simply want as many people as possible to have access to our columnists' great advice on Windows. Please use the following link for details:
Don't miss out on this free bonus download
Norton gives Windows Secrets a false positive
WindowsSecrets.com received a big, fat rating of "red" (warning) on Oct. 6 from Symantec's Norton Safe Web. This browser plug-in is an optional component of Norton Internet Security 2009. The service attempts to alert users to Web sites that use drive-by downloads and other hacker exploits.
Safe Web claimed that our site contained a security threat by the name of:
Our site never tried to download any such file to anyone. We found that an old Support Alert Newsletter article that's in our searchable library linked to a site that once linked to another site that once might have had a copy of this file.
We removed the clickable hyperlink (without deleting any text from the article) and reported the error to Norton. The false positive was corrected in under 24 hours. Our site gained a "green" (safe) rating once again, as you can see from Norton's Windows Secrets rating page. Thanks to sharp-eyed reader Jeff Raff for his help. We apologize to anyone who was temporarily unable to visit our site.
Brian Livingston is editorial director of WindowsSecrets.com and co-author of Windows Vista Secrets and 10 other books.
Bugs and lack of apps plague 64-bit users
By Stuart J. Johnston
Vista boosters say that the 64-bit edition of the operating system runs applications faster and can address a lot more system memory than its 32-bit counterpart.
Just don't tell that to Vince Heiker, a retired IT executive in the Dallas area who has used 64-bit Vista for some time — and hates the OS.
All versions of Vista have serious compatibility glitches, including problems with Office 2007, but the 64-bit release also suffers from a lack of applications written to take advantage of that version's ability to address more than 4GB of RAM.
In fact, Heiker and several other Windows Secrets readers begged to differ with my Sept. 25 story, which discussed the transition of desktop computing to 64-bit hardware and software.
"Plain, simple, and clear: Vista-64 is junkware. It is absolutely the worst, the buggiest software Microsoft has ever released," Heiker tells Windows Secrets.
What's worse, he said, is that Microsoft has no fixes for the vast majority of Vista's problems.
Early adopters vent their Vista-64 frustration
Many potential users of the 64-bit version of Vista are reluctant to make any OS changes after getting burned previously by 32-bit Vista.
"We're not using 64-bit Vista due to all the problems we've had with 32-bit Vista," says J.C. Warren, a systems engineer at a Seattle-based asset-management company.
Other users' complaints include what they view as important software that doesn't run under 64-bit Vista.
"ACT, a fairly popular contact-management program, will not work in 64-bit, and currently Sage has no plans to support it," reader Frank Boecherer said in an e-mail.
Also on the list of software that readers say is missing in action is a 64-bit version of Adobe's popular Flash player. And don't forget Office 2007, which comes only in a 32-bit edition.
To be sure, many 32-bit applications that were not written specifically to run on Vista-64 will in fact run on that OS. Microsoft maintains a listing of applications and hardware that are "compatible" with Vista, including 64-bit Vista. This listing consists primarily of 32-bit programs that Vista-64 runs in a 32-bit window.
Many 32-bit Microsoft apps, including Office 2007, are listed as working with 64-bit Windows, but some readers who run Vista-64 complain that bugs and incompatibilities abound. In addition, many popular third-party applications, such as Yahoo Music Jukebox Plus, are labeled with a big red "X," meaning they have problems with 64-bit Vista.
Heiker's list of Vista-64 bugs and application incompatibilities is a long one.
Among the problems Heiker cites is "a jerky mouse cursor" that interprets mouse clicks in one spot on the screen as an action on a different spot.
That's not OK, particularly if you're a day trader like those Heiker supports for TradeStation.com, where a click on the wrong spot can cost serious money. Heiker says he's experienced the mouse-location problem with three different mice, all relatively new purchases.
Heiker finally isolated the cause: the 64-bit version of Vista Ultimate failed to remove old device drivers. He discussed the problem with Microsoft support staff, but he says they could provide no solution. Heiker finally resorted to his time-tested standby.
"The only way to get rid of the hardware drivers was to reinstall Vista," Heiker said.
A second problem Heiker points out involves Outlook 2007, which fails to shut down properly. Other Outlook 2007 problems include unexplained freezes and the mysterious disappearance of the preview pane.
Did you say 'millions' of Registry entries?
Another glitch Heiker continues to confront is a real doozy: with no explanation in sight, his 64-bit Vista PC has accumulated some 23 million Registry entries. No, that's not a typo — 23 million.
"I brought this to Microsoft's attention and there's no solution to it," he said. "Apparently, a Registry entry is made each time a 32-bit application tries to update the Vista-64 Registry ... duplicating Registry entries a huge number of times."
Despite Heiker's long list of complaints and multiple contacts with Microsoft support, little has changed. "They haven't fixed a single problem that I've reported," he adds.
Complaints such as those of early Vista-64 users don't bode well for the OS in general or 64-bit editions specifically. Still, 64-bit PCs are in the cards for many current Windows users a year or two down the road. By then, the smattering of 64-bit PCs now appearing on the market will likely become a groundswell.
Today, there are 64-bit editions of both Windows XP and Vista — and there will also be 64-bit editions of Windows 7 when it ships in 2009 or 2010. The question is: When 64-bit computers become the norm for desktops, will all the software pieces be in place?
Many people are waiting for Windows 7's debut
It's looking more and more likely that 64-bit desktop computing won't go mainstream until long after Windows 7 ships.
Unfortunately, there's no information on how well 64-bit Vista is doing in the marketplace. The overall figures for Vista are less than stellar: Microsoft claims it has sold 180 million licenses for all versions of Vista, but take that number with a grain of salt — or perhaps the whole shaker.
Many of those licenses can be deployed as either Vista or XP; analysts state that many of these "Vista" licenses are actually being used for XP.
In fact, according to a Gartner report issued last spring, fewer than 1% of PCs in the U.S. and Europe were running Vista by the end of 2007 — a full year into Vista's lifecycle. Compare that figure with the 80% that, according to the report, are running XP.
Confirming the molasses-in-January adoption rate of Vista is the Gartner study's finding that 55% of European companies and 40% of U.S. firms aren't planning to begin serious Vista deployments (whether the 32- or 64-bit edition) until the first quarter of 2009 or later.
That's awfully close to Microsoft's planned delivery date for Windows 7, which is expected to be significantly faster and more svelte than Vista. Indeed, a Sept. 12 report by Andy Patrizio of Internet News.com states that Microsoft is shooting to ship Windows 7 in time for the 2009 holiday season.
Microsoft wouldn't comment on when it will release a 64-bit version of Office, although analysts predict the next major Office release — code-named "Office 14" — will ship in late 2009 or early 2010. That puts it on a similar track to Windows 7.
Microsoft's impending delivery of Windows 7 and Office 14 could further undercut Vista's viability in the marketplace.
Reader Roger Shuttleworth summed it up in an e-mail:
"I've been involved with OS migrations since Windows 95. None of them was as difficult as Vista to deal with," Warren said. "I can't wait to get my hands on an early beta version of Windows 7."
Stuart Johnston is associate editor of WindowsSecrets.com. He has written about technology for InfoWorld, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and InternetNews.com.
Find out who's doing what on your computer
Table 1. Keyloggers vary in crucial features. (• = yes)
All the keyloggers I examined (except Keylogger Spy Monitor and the free version of Perfect Keylogger) let you capture screens at designated intervals. This means you can see whatever the user was seeing on the screen at that moment.
The products vary in their ability to hide themselves. Many keyloggers give you the option to keep them off your list of Start menu shortcuts and out of Windows' Add or Remove Programs list (Vista calls this Control Panel applet Programs and Settings.) Unfortunately, this usually makes it difficult to uninstall the application.
You can still find the program in Windows Explorer and run its uninstaller there — provided you choose the option to include an uninstaller during the program's installation. In theory, keeping an uninstaller off your disk makes it harder for the target user to eliminate the keylogger.
None of products I reviewed has a foolproof solution for hiding its files in Windows Explorer. Perfect Keylogger's installation routine, however, does let you rename the executables to any name you want, so they'll be harder for users to spot.
Most keyloggers also hide themselves from the list of applications in Windows' Task Manager. Keylogger Pro and both the free and paid versions of Perfect Keylogger also keep the executable from appearing under Task Manager's Processes tab.
If you're concerned that your PC might be spied on, you can use the fact that none of these programs successfully hide their running executables from Microsoft's free Process Explorer utility. Unfortunately, the correct company name or description seldom appears in the Process Explorer listing, so to spot one of these spies in Process Explorer, you may need to know the name of the keylogger's executable.
I expected the programs' logs to be easy to decipher, but this wasn't always the case. Each keylogger seems to take its own approach to logging the activity it records. All of the programs except the free version of Perfect Keylogger show system (non-character) keys in their logs. This is useful if you want to see whether the user typed the Backspace key a few times to delete something in a chat window before actually sending it along, for example. Unfortunately, recording all such keys makes the logs tough to read.
As a solution, Perfect Keylogger lets you choose whether to include non-character keys in its logs. Keylogger Pro's approach to system keys is less elegant: you have to toggle the display based on the log selection, so it's not permanently on or off. Oddly, Keylogger Pro has no option to include system keys when exporting the entire log to HTML.
Perfect Keylogger's free version doesn't include system keys in its activity logs; the remaining programs I tested always include non-character keys in their logs.
In addition to capturing outgoing keystrokes, Perfect Keylogger and Silent Logger record both sides of chats conducted in popular IM clients. Keylogger Spy Monitor does not record chats, but the developer sells other products designed for this purpose.
#1: BLAZINGTOOLS PERFECT KEYLOGGER
Perfect Keylogger lives up to its name by offering a bevy of useful features that you won't find in other such programs. For example, Perfect Keylogger is the only program I tested that automatically zips and password-protects logs that it sends to you via e-mail. You can also choose to encrypt the log so that it's viewable only via the program's built-in log viewer.
This is also the only keylogger I tried that you can install remotely, unless you're willing to spring for the U.S. $83 Silent Logger Plus Remote-Install Edition, which I didn't test.
Figure 1. Perfect Keylogger lets you choose whether to include non-character keys in its logs.
While all of the keyloggers I tried are adept at capturing passwords, Perfect Keylogger goes them one better by identifying and labeling the passwords it records. Without such labels, it's difficult to know whether a random word or phrase typed in a given window is actually a password.
Perfect Keylogger's free Lite version lacks most of the paid edition's features. The company sells an intermediate $25 version, whose feature set falls somewhere in the middle; I didn't test that version. A table on the company's site lists differences among the three releases.
Despite the claims at the Perfect Keylogger site, I was unable to find a link to the free version there. Fortunately, you can still download it from a Tucows page.
#2: EXPLOREANYWHERE KEYLOGGER PRO
Keylogger Pro is an impressive keylogging tool that offers lots of options in its easy-to-use tabbed dialog box. The program even sports a few features not found in other keylogging apps.
For example, Keylogger Pro is the only program I looked at that lets you designate which user accounts to monitor. In addition, you can disable Task Manager, Safe Mode, Startup programs, and other Windows components that could interfere with the tool's operations.
This is also the only keylogger in this bunch that lets you set the priority for use of processor time, so the program doesn't slow down the apps being monitored.
Keylogger Pro's logs are easy to read, although they have a couple of quirks. For example, when you select individual log items, you can export to the text format only. If you export the entire log, however, you're forced to export to the HTML format.
Even though I like this program a lot, it suffers from some serious problems. Although Keylogger Pro supports e-mailing of logs, I couldn't get this feature to work.
Another problem is that the utility has not been updated to work with Vista. It appears to run under Vista, but in my testing, the OS repeatedly warned me that a suspect program was running, which ruins any chance of operating Keylogger Pro in secrecy. In addition, I consistently got an error message ("Win32cfg has stopped working") each time I shut down the program in Vista.
#3: EMATRIXSOFT KEYLOGGER SPY MONITOR
Another keylogging contender is Keylogger Spy Monitor from eMatrixSoft, a company that sells many other monitoring products intended to satisfy all your spying needs. Keylogger Spy Monitor is a competent performer that offers nothing in particular to recommend it over the two top-rated products.
Keylogger Spy Monitor joins Keylogger Pro as the only two programs in this roundup that include their own built-in scheduling. It's easy to set up the program, and its monitoring capabilities are on par with the other keylogging apps I tested.
Like most of the programs in this group, Keylogger Spy Monitor's log is reasonably well organized. The log presents information in a table that notes the time, user, and window in which the data was captured. There's no option for filtering out system keys, so IM chats and e-mails are difficult to spot due to the numerous Shift, Backspace, and other non-character keys that are mixed in with the text.
While there's nothing wrong with this product, it's no better than its competitors and priced about the same. That's why you're better off with a product such as my top choice, Perfect Keylogger.
#4: SILENT LOGGER
Of the keylogging programs I tested, Silent Logger was the most frustrating. By default, the program is installed without telling you its default password or the hotkeys that will display its otherwise-hidden settings. Silent Logger also ships without any information about its user manual, which is available online only.
To find the password and other settings, I had to contact the company's tech support by e-mail. Fortunately, the support staffers were prompt in providing the information I needed, including a link to the program's online manual.
This is a decidedly odd and frustrating way to get started. Other programs simply ask you to assign a password and hotkey during installation or initial setup.
Before it will run on your PC, Silent Logger must register itself at the company's site. In theory, this happens with no user interaction. For some reason, my purchased copy failed to register even though I tried to install it on two different machines and turned off my firewall in each case. I contacted tech support about the problem but never received a reply.
As a result, I was not able to test the program's main function of keylogging nor see what kind of log it produced.
I was able to try out the settings dialog box. There I tried to set up Silent Logger to e-mail its logs to me. But like Keylogger Pro, the test message from the e-mail setup dialog reported failure, so this feature was a bust as well.
Like the other keyloggers I tried, Silent Logger has some features for hiding itself from the subject of your spying. However, the program failed to hide its executable from Task Manager's Processes tab.
Silent Logger was the most expensive and least usable program of those I tested. If you need a good keylogger, I recommend you go with the $35 version of Perfect Keylogger.
Scott Dunn is associate editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He has been a contributing editor of PC World since 1992 and currently writes for the Here's How section of that magazine.
WACKY WEB WEEK
Forget Freddy, it's a nightmare on Windows Street!
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The Windows Secrets Newsletter is published weekly on the 1st through 4th Thursdays of each month, plus occasional news updates. We skip an issue on the 5th Thursday of any month, the week of Thanksgiving, and the last two weeks of August and December. Windows Secrets resulted from the merger of several publications: Brian's Buzz on Windows and Woody's Windows Watch (2004), the LangaList (2006), and the Support Alert Newsletter (2008).
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