Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Campaign For Free WiFi

Channel Five's Gadget Show are running a campaign to try and get free WiFi in every major town and city. To quote the site directly…
This week on The Gadget Show, Jason explored a pilot scheme which supplies the city of Norwich with free WiFi internet access for its people.

A great idea, but not enough. We want to see free WiFi in every major town and city in the UK; for business, for tourism, for the future, and for anyone and everyone who relies on the internet.

While it sounds like a great idea for us consumers, I'm not overy optimistic that there wouldn't be some serious opposition to it from some of the major commercial WiFi providers like BT OpenZone or those that premium connections for hotel guests. I can also imagine tax-payers living in rural areas not being too keen on subsidising us "toonies" either.

Still it can't hurt to try so if you want to join in, please sign up to their online campaign here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Free Anti-Virus Tools

With my Symantec Anti-Virus for Macintosh about to expire and, having never had it catch anything even slightly contagious since it was installed, I decided to have a look around for an alternative and preferably free solution. I mean, why should anyone profit from a computer virus?

While we Mac OS X users might feel a bit lucky by not having been the target of many virus or trojan attacks that's no reason to get too complacent as some day it'll be our turn and besides, we can do our bit to keep infections down by scanning files we pass on to others.

Anyway, that's enough waffle from me so on to the free tools…

Clam AntiVirus Apple CompatibleLinux CompatibleWindows Compatible

First up is the open-source Clam AntiVirus, which is a GPL anti-virus toolkit for UNIX that has also been ported to Windows and for which some nice soul has written a Mac OS X GUI front end. Apple are even shipping it with their Mac OS X 10.4 Server. The Mac OS X version is ClamXav and the Windows port is ClamWin.

Most important with a virus checker is that its database is updated as soon as possible when new threats emerge and being an end-user, collaborative effort, Clam AntiVirus certainly seems to be regularly ahead of the commercial vendors in doing this. Scans and virus updates can be scheduled and it can scan the more common mailbox storage formats

What it lacks on UNIX and Windows is an on-access real-time scanner but the Mac OS X version has a helper application that has the ability to watch specified folders for newly added items and scan them as they arrive or scan newly connected volumes or disks.

Where it doesn't score so many points is in its ease of use, speed and looks but if you're looking for free protection it's well worth considering. I think I'll give it a workout on the Mac and see how it does.

AVG Free Advisor Linux CompatibleWindows Compatible

AVG Anti-Virus Free is an excellent, free anti-virus protection tool developed by GRISOFT for non-commercial home use and I've been using it very happily for some time now on my old Windows 98 system and on my kids Windows XP system. The latest version is also Windows Vista compatible.

It has regular database updates, realtime protection of files and e-mails and scheduled and manual testing. They also a offer a commercial version if you need more detailed control of settings and technical support but for most home users, the free version offers a pretty good level of protection and they do offer good discounts to education, government, charities and churches.

Avast! Home Edition Windows Compatible - another free and well-established anti-virus tool for home and non-commercial users. There is a commercial version available but if all you need is protection for home or school systems, then this looks well worth trying out.

It offers protection for Instant Messaging (chat) and P2P as well as the usual real-time, file-system and e-mail protection and it can scan network and web traffic as well. Another bonus is automatic virus definition updates, which is a feature often left out of free packages.

Comodo Antivirus Windows Compatible - This is a fully free product with no limitations on who can use it. It offers real-time protection, automatic updates, scheduled scans, e-mail scanning and it can scan network and removable drives too.

Comodo also offers free Firewall, Backup, Secure Password Management, Anti-Spam and Anti-Phishing tools.

Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic Linux CompatibleWindows Compatible - Another, free for private use tool that protects against viruses, worms, Trojans and dialers. There's not a lot of information available on this tool but they also have a premium edition for personal systems and solutions for business use so maybe worth a look if the others don't satisfy your needs. They also offer a free unerase tool.

Panda Antivirus for Linux Linux Compatible - a free antivirus tool for Linux servers and desktops. It's designed to be managed from the command line or console.

Free Online Scanners

There are a number of free online virus and trojan scanners available and these can be pretty useful but bear in mind that most of them will be trying to sell you their commercial end-product in order to clean any found infections…

McAfee FreeScan Windows Compatible - based on the award-winning McAfee VirusScan engine, FreeScan searches for viruses, including the latest known "in the wild" viruses, and displays a detailed list of any infected files. Should viruses be found, it provides links to more information and what you can do to clean your system.

Trend Micro HouseCall Linux CompatibleApple CompatibleWindows Compatible - scans for viruses, worms, Trojans, and spyware infections. It requires the installation of a browser plug-in to do the job but it will repair and remove infections.

Panda ActiveScan Windows Compatible - scans, disinfects and eliminates over 110,000 viruses, worms and Trojans from all system devices, hard disks, compressed files and e-mail. It also detects spyware, dialers, hacking tools, jokes and security risks but won't automatically eliminate these for you.

Symantec Security Check Linux CompatibleApple CompatibleWindows Compatible - tests your exposure to a wide range of online threats and then no doubt tells you what you need to fix any found problems. It worked on my Mac and said I was safe, sigh!

eTrust Antivirus Web Scanner Windows Compatible - scans your system for virus infections and, going by the on-screen controls, allows you to cure or delete infected files.

F-Secure Online Scanner Windows Compatible - will scan your PC for infections and disinfect if required.

I've only listed the mainstream anti-virus tools here but there are quite a few more of these online scanning services. If you want to search for more just search for free online virus scan or something similar.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Free Online File Storage

I've been a fan of online storage for many years. The simple benefits are that they provide a means of backing up personal files and also making those files available from anywhere. Some services will allow you to share files or folders with other users so it becomes another way of distributing files that e-mail systems can't cope with. With broadband speeds ever increasing, it makes using these services even faster as well.

NB: I'm not going to cover image hosting services here. Although you could store images in any online storage service, there are some specifically tailored to suit sharing out or publishing image collections and I'll get to them another day.

Here are some of the better known free storage providers…

BT Digital Vault - 2Gb Free

Offers a free, basic service with 2GB of storage. Pay £5 a month for the full package and you'll get 20GB and a Backup Manager application that will automatically backup any new or updated documents on your system. The Backup Manager isn't yet Macintosh compatible but they're working on it. Be aware that, if you’ve subscribed to the free Basic service, your files will be only kept for 90 days from your last visit.

Box.net - 1Gb Free

Offers 1Gb of storage for free and you can share your files with any other Box.net user. Sign up for a premium or pro account and you can also get more space, public and workgroup sharing and blog posting. They're working on PC and Macintosh applications to allow automatic file synchronization. The only negative I can see is that the free service has a file size limit of 10Mb.

XDrive - 5Gb Free

Get 5Gb of space for free that you can share or even publish online. You can also allow others to access and even edit your files. Their Desktop Software for Windows allows your XDrive storage to be mounted as an external drive and schedule automatic backups and there's even an interface to allow access from PDAs. You'll need an AOL or AIM account to get an XDrive space but they're free too.

MediaMax - 25Gbs Free

Offers 25Gbs for free with options to upgrade to a range of paid services with up to 1000Gb of storage. It comes with a pretty good set of tools for uploading, sharing and hosting files, music, photos and movies and you can send e-mail links to facilitate sending large files to others.

While 25Gbs is the largest free offering I could find, there are a few limitations for free accounts. You can only download up to 1Gb/month and you can't download any file larger than 25Mb. Same goes for e-mail links.

myDataBus - 5Gbs Free

Another good looking free storage provider, offering 5Gb for free and the only limitation I could see was a 500Mb limit on file size. All files are virus scanned, it comes with group collaboration tools and you can share music, photos, videos, etc. as well as mail links to large files.

There are a host of others offering lower capacity free storage so here's the best of the rest that I could find…

There are even a couple of services offering unlimited free storage but with some conditions worth taking into account. Here's a couple as an example…

KeepMyFile - Unlimited Free

A completely free service that allows file and image hosting but with some major limitations. Uploaded files have a maximum size of 20Mb each with image formats limited to 2.5Mb. They make no guarantees as to file availability and reserve the right to delete or disable access to any file without notice and if a file does not get accessed over a period of 40 days it will eventually be deleted.

MediaFire - Unlimited Free

Offers unlimited uploads with no file size limitations and unlimited bandwidth restrictions on downloading. However, it is fully ad-supported so be prepared to be bombarded with ads while you're using it. They make no guarantees as to availability and reserve the right to change, suspend or discontinue all or any aspect of the services at any time.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Playlists? Na, Life's Too Short!

I've never been a fan of building playlists for my music player, it's just too time consuming. I'm not a DJ and life's just too short to bother having to sort out what I want to listen to so what I do is either just play an entire album or select a genre or artist and then select the shuffle option. But now, there's another way to do it…

The Filter Apple CompatibleWindows Compatible

The Filter is a free plug-in for iTunes that will create playlists for you. All you need to do is pick a few tracks in iTunes and The Filter will build a playlist to suit the mood and tone of the selected tracks.

The iPod Filler function will also create playlists for specific activities, such as getting to work or going to the gym and it'll refresh those playlists each and every time you sync your player. Creating these mixes is easy, all you need to do is plug in your music player and press the iPod icon in the bottom left hand side of The Filter. This will bring up a window where you can control how you want your mixes built.

iPod FillerWhen you first install it, it cross-references its index of your music collection with other behavioural data it has online. Based on this, it uses a magic algorithm to produce playlists as required. Obviously it will have some trouble with untitled tracks and those with no ID3 tags but those are pretty rare nowadays.

Versions for Mac OS X iTunes and Windows Media Player are due for release in December but you can download the Windows iTunes version now. There's also the possibility of a Winamp version in the future too. They recommend that you have at least 200 tracks in your library to get the best out of the system and you'll also need a broadband connection.

Audiobaba Apple CompatibleWindows Compatible

Again, this one's still in development and Audiobaba is also a free plug-in for iTunes and Media Player. It uses music analysis technology to improve three of the main issues pertaining to your music experience. First, it generates instant, personalized playlists based on your existing music collection. Second, it provides an AutoGJ auto dj function that actually learns about you as you listen to your music. Third, it provides you with relevant, personal online recommendations for other songs based on the song currently playing in your media player.

AudiobabaAlthough other solutions have addressed these issues in the past, they say their Triple Play Analysis™ technology takes into account the underlying acoustic wave pattern of music, what the software has learned about you while observing your listening habits, and various subjective "Human Factors".

It's Windows only at the moment but they're working on a Mac version - no known release date though.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

AppleStore Comes to Glasgow

Glasgow is finally getting its own AppleStore! The company have filed a planning application to renovate 147 Buchanan Street, which housed The Pier furnishings store.

The building itself is 165 years old and sited on a particularly busy corner of the town so it should be an ideal location. Apple’s proposal includes removing the existing mezzanine level, constructing a second floor, installing an elevator and spiral-glass staircase, and renovating the existing basement. The 7,800 square-foto store would include a Genius/iPod bar but no theatre. Exterior work will necessarily be limited to restoration, since the building is protected by a Category A listing. Apple says the work will cost just over £1.1 million, could begin in Feb. 2007 and be completed by July 2007.

See ifoAppleStore for the full story.

Im wondering how Scotsys, Scotland's largest Apple reseller, will welcome the news of this store opening. They've just spent a fair deal on refurbishing their Great Western Road store, which is due to re-open today on the 4th of November as Scotland's first Apple Premium Reseller Store.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Windows Media Player 11 Released

Microsoft have released version 11 of Windows Media Player, which now offers new ways to store and enjoy digital media beyond music. Access all of your video, pictures, and recorded TV on your computer - play it, view it, organize it, sync it to a portable device for viewing on the go, or share with devices around your home, all from one place.

Billed as the "most-used media player in the world", Microsoft claims that with version 11 you can now access music "faster than on any other media player". With the upcoming release of their Zune portable media device, Windows Media Player will also act as the conduit for sharing media files between devices and Microsoft claims support for more than 200 devices through the new software as well as access to hundreds of online music and video services and radio stations.

Windows Media Player 11 also features integration with the MTV URGE music service, which gives it access to over two million tracks and MTV exclusives. URGE also includes hundreds of playlists, radio stations, music blogs, artist profiles, and feature stories and URGE Feeds keep new music flowing straight to your PC and portable music player. Of course it'll connect to lots of other online music stores as well.

In addition to the current format options for ripping your music—Windows Media Audio (WMA), MP3, Windows Media Audio (Variable Bit Rate), and Windows Media Audio (Lossless)—Windows Media Player 11 introduces two new options: Windows Media Audio Pro and WAV (lossless). It also comes with Advanced Audio Fingerprinting, which helps ensure that album art and track information gets added as you import music. And then there's Instant Search, which allows fast access to your digital music collection. Just type in the track, album, artist, or a keyword or even part of a name and results are returned with each keystroke, narrowing down the choices as you type, and providing lightning-fast response time, regardless of the size of your library.

Obviously version 11 has been developed as a means of competing with Apple and to help get their Zune player quickly accepted by the masses and this upgrade looks like a major step forward. I love Apple but with iTunes and iPod they've dominated the downloadable music market with no serious competition for a long time now.

Google Acquires JotSpot

I've just noticed on the Google Blog that they've acquired JotSpot, a company that develops collaborative wiki-based applications. JotSpot's wiki allows you to create rich web-based spreadsheets, calendars, documents and photo galleries. It's as easy as using a word processor and no web programming knowledge is required.

The details about the deal are on the site and are as follows…

Google shares JotSpot's vision for helping people collaborate, share and work together online. JotSpot's team and technology are a strong fit with existing Google products like Google Docs & Spreadsheets, Google Apps for Your Domain and Google Groups.

We believe that joining Google will accelerate our team's vision of offering users the best collaboration platform on the web. Google shares our vision and presents us with the world's best environment for delivering on it.

Both Google and JotSpot are committed to continuing to support customers, and we know our users have invested a lot in JotSpot. Existing customers of the wiki, family site and class reunion site will continue to have uninterrupted access to their accounts and their data will not be affected. In the future, we'll work hard to move as seamlessly as possible to Google's systems so that customers won't be inconvenienced.

Existing users will also be pleased to note that they will no longer be billed for using the service. However, don't all rush to sign up as registrations are currently suspended until the service is integrated into Google's systems.

I'm still on the fence regarding wikis. The idea that I could publish a site and then let others edit that site just doesn't sit well with me but then I'm a control freak when it comes to things I've created.