Sunday, December 03, 2006

Best BitTorrent Client

The P2P concept and the original BitTorrent client have created a phenomenal change in how people share digital data.

But the original client is also infamous for its bulkiness and drag on system resources. Since its release, there has been numerous attempts by others to release compatible, better clients. Some (very) good examples include Azureus, BitComet, and a few others.

But the best of the best, compatible BitTorrent client is (as of today) ĀµTorrent. Fast, efficient, small in size (at only 170KB!), lightweight, free (as in beer), excellent are some of the popular words people use to describe it. A nicely created piece of computing art.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Best Personal VPN

There are a lot of reasons to securely connect a group of computers together over the Internet. File sharing, remote desktop, and gaming are just a few popular applications. But when it comes to VPN, even IT professionals will find it a tedious and complicated topic. Obscure jargons like PPTP, IPSec, SSH, SSL tunneling start to appear and you get everything but fun.

Not until the arrival of Hamachi.

It requires virtually zero configuration. Even a layman can build his/her personal VPN in minutes. Once set up, each of your computer will be assigned a permanent address in the 5. network and can communicate with each other directly using this special address. Needless to say, all traffic is encrypted with the industry proven AES-256 algorithm. Available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Best PDF Creator

If you google for "freeware PDF creator", believe it or not, you get almost 3 million results! Many of the PDF tools are free (as in beer), such as CutePDF, PDF995, Go2PDF, PDF4Free, etc. Yea, it's not difficult at all to locate a free PDF tool, the real challenge is which one is the best?

My vote goes to PDFCreator, a free tool for creating PDF from any Windows applications. It is installed as a virtual Windows printer. It supports PDF encryption for both 40- and 128-bits! It can merge multiple files into a single PDF. As well, it's under GPL so it's 100% free for both home and commercial use!

The tip from me is that in order to create the highest quality PDF files with lossless pictures, you can change the image compression algorithm from "JPEG" to "ZIP", and down sample the resolution to "120". This resolution is generally good enough for distribution.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Best Process Tamer

It's difficult for me to categorize this useful utility, but it actually solves a common problem among Windows users.

Chances are you probably have the experience of a sudden slowdown of your PC, which is caused by either a decent application doing some real work (e.g. a large spreadsheet) or a misbehaving application overloading the CPU unintentionally. The end result is the same - they eat up 100% of the CPU time and the PC becomes unresponsive.

Process Tamer is a unique utility of its kind to rescue your PC from such unresponsive states. It accomplishes this by constantly monitoring other running processes. When it detects a CPU hogger, it reduces the priority of that process temporarily to restore the PC's responsiveness until the CPU usage is back to normal.

This sounds simple but it's really effective. I think Windows should have this capability built-in. Process Tamer also provides a Task Manager-like GUI where you can spot any CPU eater easily and terminate it if necessary. Extremely easy to use. Just install and forget. A license is required to run but it's free to register and it never expires.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Best Screen Capturer

Perhaps you've noticed the nice-looking annotations of my screen captures in the previous posts, and starting to wonder what software tool I use.

FastStone Capture is a very powerful, flexible and handy screen capturer. You may have come across many other similar utilities before, but I can tell you that none of the others (freeware) offers the same level of advanced features quite matching this kid. I especially like the (a) ability to capture scrolling area and (b) built-in editor.

In my tests, capturing scrolling area works fine with IE and Firefox. Cool.

The built-in editor allows you to easily make changes to a capture and add extra fancy annotations. (See screenshot.) A great tool at a great price.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Best Personal Firewall

It's certainly the most trusted personal firewall software on Windows. It's also one of the earliest competitors in the market back in 1999. It's ZoneAlarm, and Zone Labs (now a CheckPoint company) is the creator behind it.

Since then, ZoneAlarm has evolved into many different generations and editions - Internet Security Suite, Pro, Anti-Spyware, Antivirus and Free.

Still what I like most is the personal freeware edition - ZoneAlarm Free. Despite its price tag, it provides good enough protection and outbound application control that are lacking from standard Windows installations.

Why am I writing this post? "Hey, many people already knew ZoneAlarm." The latest version as of this writing is 6.5.x. But is the latest always the greatest? Probably not. Zone Labs has combined the Pro and Free versions as a single package some time ago, causing the Free versions to eat more and more memory. Stability of the Free edition also varies, unnecessarily, with the Pro versions.

For this reason, I am staying at version 5.5.094, which is widely recognized as a very solid release. The good news is you can enjoy this version too! It's still available from Zone Labs download site though it's buried deep inside. My tips to you: you can find a complete release history together with links to download most past versions here. Look for the 5.5 Branch and download link. Finally, a few configuration tweaks which are self-explanatory are shown in the picture. Good Luck!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Welcome and Best Antivirus Freeware

Welcome to my blog, boys and girls. This blog is dedicated to relentless software professionals who created the best freeware applications out there.

I created this blog because I am enjoying a lot of great apps done by others and feel like to share my experience with the best of the bunch apps to more people.

As my first post, let's start from the basic stuff - antivirus. You may know that there are quite some good ones already on the market - AntiVir, Avast, AVG just to name a few. What you probably didn't know is the latest entrant called Active Virus Shield from AOL/Kaspersky.

Active Virus Shield (AVS) is based on Kaspersky AntiVirus (KAV) 6.0 and powered by the same top-tier scanning engine. KAV was once infamous for its high consumption of system resources. But with the latest release, what's really nice is that they have built a number of advanced techniques to reduce system usage, yet, simple to use.

If you're still worried about performance, one recommendation for advanced users is to go for "Low Security Level" in return for even more speed. Don't panic. What the AVS team defined as "Low" is in fact the standard behaviour for a lot of other vendors!

Top commercial-grade scanning engine, hourly AV signature updates, POP3/IMAP4/HTTP realtime scanning, no nagging screens, intelligent scanning of only new and changed files are some of the highlights of this excellent piece of software.

Still doesn't sound good enough to make you switch? :) Virus.gr has done an extensive study on quite a few antivirus applications recently and confirmed that Active Virus Shield is seriously the best (freeware). Here are the top ten from their list:

1. Kaspersky version 6.0.0.303 - 99.62%
2. Active Virus Shield by AOL version 6.0.0.299 -
99.62%
3. F-Secure 2006 version 6.12.90 -
96.86%
4. BitDefender Professional version 9 -
96.63%
5. CyberScrub version 1.0 -
95.98%
6. eScan version 8.0.671.1 -
95.82%
7. BitDefender freeware version 8.0.202 -
95.57%
8. BullGuard version 6.1 -
95.57%
9. AntiVir Premium version 7.01.01.02 -
95.45%
10. Nod32 version 2.51.30 -
95.14%

Update: some users are concerned about privacy issues indicated in the end-user license agreement, make sure you do not install the Security Toolbar toward the end of installation. See picture.

Final Scorecard
ProductActive Virus Shield
by AOL
Avira ClassicAvast Free
EngineKaspersky v6AviraAvast
Signature UpdatesHourlyDailyDaily
Performance*ExcellentGoodGood
Detection Rate**99.62%94.26%87.46%
ICSA Antivirus
Certified
Certified
Certified
WCL Checkmark L2***
Certified----
OverallWinner


* by CNET Reviews (CNET 2006 Antivirus Performance Test Scores)
** by Virus.gr
*** by West Coast Labs
All contents © Copyright 2007 Keith K. Chau. All Rights Reserved.