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My Windows’ armoury

3 November 2013
Posted in: Free apps, Tech | 3 Comments

SecurityEven though Windows isn’t my everyday OS, I do look in for a bit of housekeeping fairly regularly. It is still my gaming platform of choice and, of course, I have to keep popping back whenever I need to review software or test a website. Earlier tonight, when I found my antivirus application wasn’t loading and also decided to finally lose patience with the patchy performance of TinyWall, you could say there was a security emergency.

Given that I’ve written quite a lot on PC security and also bullied friends into taking a closer look at their computers’ security arrangements, I’d probably have to live the rest of my life wearing a paper bag on my head if my computer was struck down by malware. And that too because I was being lazy with fixing my firewall or that I had a malfunctioning antivirus.

Thus, sleeves were rolled up and Windows is now all tucked up safely. And here is a glimpse into my armoury.


I’ve been a big fan of Avast antivirus for about a decade now. I’ve flirted with others, but have always come back to it. I use the free version, which is a much slimmed-down avatar of its premium products, but is good enough for my needs. Avast 2014 has a nice, new interface, though one thing that’s always creeped me out is the loud “ting” and the breezy voice announcing that my database has been updated. That’s the first thing I turn off.

A note for those who believe that free antivirus is crappy (and yes, this is for all you computer technicians): Not even the world’s most expensive antivirus program can guarantee you 100 per cent security. Your safety actually depends upon something else—your own common sense. If you forget to keep your virus database updated, if you download dodgy programs from shady places, if you visit unscrupulous sites, and if you don’t keep a very close eye on what’s going on when you’re installing software, you’re in trouble anyway. I’ve been writing on computers and tech for 15 years and have never used a commercial antivirus solution. Also, I’ve never been laid low by malware. Hard disk crash, yes; accidentally deleting essential registry items, yes; virus/malware infection, nope.


Though I have Windows Firewall turned on, till about a year or so ago, I was also quite happy with ZoneAlarm Free. Then things started going a bit sour. When you updated, they tried to arm-twist you into installing additional toolbars, which hijacked your browsers. I can’t recall why, but I finally lost patience with it and I zeroed in on TinyWall. I’d heard good things about it, and after sussing out the (freeware) competition, I decided to give it a shot. Long story short: happily ever after didn’t happen.

Anyhow, today, I went back to ZoneAlarm. We are not friends yet, but willing to give each other a second chance. For those unhappy about the compulsary toolbar installs, here’s some good news—it’s not compulsary, it’s just been very sneakily designed to make you think it is. To get around it, make sure to: (a) Opt for the custom install (small type under the snazzy Quick install button); and (b) Look for the “Skip all offers” text in very tiny type and an inconveniently dark colour in the toolbars install section. Function-wise, ZoneAlarm is an excellent firewall, so I’m hoping our second round will be trouble free.

Other Antimalware

I also keep Malwarebyes Free as a back up. It doesn’t have real-time scanning, which is only available in the paid edition, but I like to run it every now and again. It’s been known to pick up malware your antivirus app might miss. I also run Windows Defender every now and again (oh all right, when Windows reminds me).

So, here’s to safe PC-ing!

(Photo credit: Ambrozjo at SXC.hu)



Disappointed by Opera

21 July 2012
Posted in: Free apps, Tech | 2 Comments

I won’t deny that I have a soft spot for Opera (the browser, not the art form). We go way back—to the days when tabbed browsing was a novelty offered up only by them. Compared to the behemoths, Opera of that time was greased lightning, loading pages significantly faster. And when they came up with another wonderful innovation called ‘Delete Private Data’, I was certain that we’d grow old together.

Sadly, things have changed. There’s no denying that Opera is still a very good browser, but their USPs have been usurped by the competition. The split-second difference in the loading speeds no longer makes any difference to most users, and for all their perfect ACID test scores, when it comes down to interface and ease of use, Opera—I regret to say—is somewhat lagging behind.

Safari and Chrome’s streamlined selves are far less unwieldy than Opera, while Firefox’s extensions support—and therefore customisability—is unmatched. The Speed Dial, which I was massively in love with at some point, is now offered in different flavours by the others; the visual tabs don’t really add to functionality besides eating up screen real estate; bookmarks syncing is available now almost across the board; and the inability to start the browser in private mode is the one reason I once abandoned Safari.

Though Opera has started to built its own extensions marketplace, it still has a long way to go. The add-ons I swear by—mainly to block ads and scripts—don’t work very well in Opera, and I’ve found its content-blocking feature wanting as well. But the biggest disappointment has been tabbed browsing: it seems like stability takes a massive blow if you have loads of tabs open. How ironical that the browser that pioneered tabbed browsing now falters in the same department.

Some part of me wants to back this once-tiny Norwegian company that makes this once-path-breaking browser, a company with neither the backing of a massive open source community nor a massive multinational corporation. My office computer—an iMac running Mac OSX Snow Leopard—has Opera as its default browser. The add-ons used are just Opera AdBlock and Ghostery; Opera Link is turned off. Yet, I find a significant lag in response the moment the number of tabs goes up to more than about half a dozen. Add a few more and the browser becomes more or less unusable.

Anyway, it is with a heavy heart that I’ve decided to abandon Opera for the desktop for the moment. I still use Opera Mini on my Android phone, and am grateful for the pre-processing of pages to limit my data expenditure. But on the desktop, I’m sorry to say, Firefox has been my browser of choice for a while, and Opera at the moment just doesn’t provide enough of an incentive to switch.

Almost a decade ago, I had had the opportunity to meet Jon von Tetzchner, the founder and once-CEO of Opera Software, and I was disarmed at his willingness to talk about the problems with the browser at that point. In June 2011, von Tetzchner, who was then a strategic adviser to Opera, left the company citing differences with the board and management on ‘on how to keep evolving Opera’. Would things have been different if he had stayed?



Tiny Tower, big fun!

11 May 2012
Posted in: Free apps, Gaming, Scratchpad, Tech | No Comments

Tiny TowerIf you’re an Android or iOS device owner and you haven’t tried Tiny Tower yet, you’re missing something. Well, all right, I’m biased and a little bit obsessed right now. Yes, Tiny Tower, in all its pixelated glory, is my new addiction.

The retro look is very deliberate and adds to the charm of this clever little game developed by NimbleBit. (Zynga has reportedly ripped off Tiny Tower in its own game called Dream Heights, but it cuts a sorry figure compared to the blocky cuteness of Tiny Tower.)

The basic idea is to build the tallest tower possible by adding new floors, and then moving in tenants and running businesses, to make more money to build more floors. As your tower grows, floors get increasingly difficult to build (you need more money and they take longer to construct).

The little people in your world, called bitizens, move in to occupy the residential floors, and they can be hired to run the businesses (food, creative, retail, service and recreation). But beware, bitizens have varying skill levels, and they will be unhappy if you put them in a field they have no interest (aww, those little sad faces!).

You spend most of your active gameplay time carting bitizens to and fro between floors. This earns you money in coins from tenants and from your shops and businesses, but every now and then you also earn bux, which can be exchanged for goodies like speeding up the building or stocking process. Sometimes you are also visited by VIPs, such as a celebrity or a big spender, who could do a lot to increase your prosperity if you direct them wisely. You periodically also earn bux through little missions, like locating a particular bitizen, or from tips from satisfied customers.

Perhaps one of the attractions of Tiny Tower is that nothing really bad happens (apart from a sad smiley if your bitizen is in the wrong job!), making it a genuinely feel-good game. Tiny Tower missionThe waiting times might have made it boring—when they say your floor will take 3 hours to build, it actually means THREE HOURS—but even if you’re not actively playing (directing bitizens up and down the tower on lifts, doing missions and adding floors), time still passes in your world. This passive gameplay ensures that the cash counter continues to flow, and your new floor will most likely be ready by the time you check on the game tomorrow morning or the painstaking stocking process will be over when you come back after a coffee break.

If this still bores you, there is a series of more complex missions that can you can accept from the main menu. If successful, these can win you some big bux. And, of course, any time you get bored of your tower, feel free to raze it to the ground and start again.

Tiny Tower is a freemium game, and you can spend real money to buy bux. However, I’m perfectly happy with it as it is.



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