Saturday, March 24, 2007

Great Organizational and Utility Freeware Finds

Despite what one may think, given the prodigious amount of posts generated from my East-side blogging station, I have managed to get a fair bit of "real" work done today.

Pruning and Clipping

Apart from the usual clutter patrol and pickup, I managed to seriously prune back the hibiscus plants on the side of our home. Generally each summer I spend a never-ending battle trimming the tips to keep them from breaching over the top of the roof-line. The net effect of this technique is to cause them to sprout multiple times at the prune-cut and just get taller and denser at the top.

So this year they were already beginning to bud out new branches and leaves, so I decisively cut them down to about five-feet in high. Hopefully they will begin the off-shooting again, but much lower this time to bring the leaf and flower density about to my chest.

Here now are some interesting Windows utilities (freeware) I've made clippings of this week.

Organizational Software

Rainlendar - (freeware) - A desktop calendar software application. It is unobtrusive and supports desktop transparencies. It allows for setting and alarm for reminders, task lists, and events. It is skinnable and can be configured to run at startup. There are three primary reasons I have adopted this gizmo on my systems; 1) I missed picking up a 2007 calendar for home and work this year, 2) It generates a system-tray icon that shows the current day--handy at work, and 3) because it is always on my desktop, I can't miss scheduled bill-payment reminders...unlike Lightning which is great...but I don't leave my e-mail client open all day at home. Available in a "Lite" freeware version and a "pro" paid version with enhanced features.

EverNote - (freeware) - A note-taking application. Similar to Microsoft's OneNote. EverNote is now at version 1.5 and mighty mature. Newer features are link to notes, drag-and-drop support, a built-in spell checker, password protection. Notes can be made in text, HTML, Digital Ink. Instead of using folders to store notes, Evernote helps users organize their thoughts a bit more intuitively with "categories." Also available in a paid "Pro" version with additional features. You might also be feeling adventurous and check into their EverNote 2.0 Beta version or their EverNote 2.0 Portable version to haul your notes with you on a USB stick.

Password Generator - (freeware) - I use KeePass as my password management tool. One of the features it has is a random password generation utility...great for making up complex passwords on the fly. However there are times (especially at work) when you need to come up with a password that meets a certain password style enforcement rule. Some of the ones we have are pretty tough. The neat thing about Gaijin's Password Generator is that you can build a rule-template and it will randomly generate passwords to fit that rule pattern such as those for WEP and WPA2. Handy. Although the website is in German, it translates quite well with a web-translation page viewer. Or just look at the screenshot then download yourself a copy. Note: it is packed as a .rar file, most good file compression tools should be able to handle it with no issues.

KeePass Password Safe Portable - (freeware) - While we are on the subject of KeePass, PortableApps has just issued a package of KeePass specifically designed for portability off a USB drive. Go check it out.

System Utility Toys

Explorer Breadcrumbs - (freeware) - One of the things I liked about Vista was it's "breadcrumbs" toolbar feature to allow quick back-browsing/jumping. Often when I am too lazy to run a file-search for a particular document on my system, I just jump around the myriad of categorized folders hunting for it. Well the Minimalist gang ported a version for Windows. While I am absolutely not a fan of either Windows or Internet Explorer toolbars...this is one I don't think I will remove anytime soon. Even Lavie is finding it useful!

Drop To DOS - (freeware) - This TeraByte application allows you to right-click on any folder and it will open a command-prompt already set to that program folder. So can leave some of the constant CD command action behind. I REALLY find this useful for when I am hunting down into some of the really deep level Windows system folder that are about a mile long to go and do some DOS level file deleting when I am ripping malware out of a system. My most-favorite excellent freeware Windows dual-pane file explorer utility freeCommander also has this ability built-in.

TaskSwitchXP - (freeware) - A super-duper Windows alt-tab manager. Supports the active Windows theme, customized fonts and color settings, appearance effects, opacity, list styles and more. It allows windowed previews of the applications being toggled through. You can pick from several "preview" modes: Start Panel style, PowerToy Style, Process Information, and Classic Style. Great when you have multiple Word or Excel documents running all at the same time! (XP/2003 support only.)

Freemeter - (freeware) - A handy-dandy little graphical monitoring tool that displays your network upload and download volume, speed, and time elapsed. It can be set to run opaque to transparent on the desktop, or micro-small in a system-tray icon format. It also has a ping and traceroute tool built in, and can do logging. Freemeter requires zero installation. Download and run. That's it.

NetMeter - (freeware) - Similar to Freemeter, it really shines in the logging and reporting fields. Not only that, it can even make a projection of future network usage levels based on your past and current usage patterns. Not sure how that would be helpful for most network and broadband users...but there you go.

StatBar - (freeware) - Provides a configurable status bar for Windows machines. Offers six color schemes with 19 information module components.

NetStat Live - (freeware) - Served up by the cool toy dudes at AnalogX. I'm always finding another useful utility on their site. NetStat Live provides graphical reports on TCP/IP activity, ping responses, CPU usage and thread monitoring.

Hard Disk Indicator - (freeware) - Simple function: adds a hard-disk LED display into your system tray. Why? Well at work and home, the hard-drive indication lights on my laptops are in very difficult locations to see, even more so under difficult lighting conditions. Or maybe your desktop unit is housed under your desk. Having this little guy flashing at me in the system tray make it much easier to spot when my hard-drive is being accessed. This application can be set to flash in several different colors and monitor up to five different drives. LoneWolf also offers (a bit further down) a Hard Disk Indicator (pro) version as well for free. It has a few more options to it, but only runs on XP/2000 systems. That's the version I use.

Neat Tip: put any/all of these applications on a dark-walled desktop and amaze your fiends and co-workers with your l33t skillz! You may get your system to crawl a bit slower, but it will look impressive!

My Expose - (freeware) - Vista only answer to the Mac OSX Expose application. Tiles all the open windows with a keypress. More info on this How-To Geek page.

Securable - (freeware) - Gibson Research Corporation (GRC) wondertoy. Simple utility to check if your system's process supports 32/64 bit applications, D.E.P. hardware, and hardware based virtualization. Good things to know. Steve then goes the extra mile and explains why all these processor functions are good to know about and utilize, if so equipped. Once you know what your processor is capable of, check out the easy to read article: ZDNet: Choosing between Vista x86 32 bit or x64 64 bit

heise Security - Offline Updater - (freeware) -Now just released at version 3.04 according to heise's update notice page, the Offline Updater tool

...downloads all security updates for Windows 2000, XP, or Server 2003 from Microsoft's servers in one go and creates perfectly up-to-date patch CDs and DVDs as ISO images. These data carriers can then be used to update as many Windows PCs as necessary without having to download the updates each time from the Internet.

Version 3.04 includes Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2003; in addition, a few details have been improved. The update script automatically installs the correct version of the Windows Update Agent, which then determines which patches are missing on the target PC.

heise also reports that Microsoft has apparently sent warnings to some other "offline" Microsoft Update bundlers threatening legal action as they were directly providing Microsoft products without the vendor's consent. Most of these "pre-packaged" builds have subsequently been taken down. However, since heise Security's version allows the end-user to obtain the update files directly from Microsoft BEFORE building their ISO image, this update delivery solution (along with other excellent varieties such as Autopatcher, RyanVM's Windows XP Post-SP2 Update Pack, and the fun and handy dynamic duo known as nLite and vLite) will most likely not face Microsoft's wrath.

Feedity - (free Web service) - Got a website that is constantly turning over new content? Only drawback is that the Webmaster hasn't upgraded to RSS feeds? Bummed? Check out Feedity. It can be configured to provide RSS based feeds for sites that don't have them. No registration required! --spotted over on CyberNet News.




Tara said...

RE: KeePass Password Safe Portable

If your looking for more portability, try an online service instead of something that you need to install on (and sync between) various machines and/or USB drives.

(Just my own humble, and biased, opinion)

Claus said...

That certainly is an alternative solution; however, there are two primary reasons why I personally don't subscribe to those services;

1) If I need to manage my passwords in an off-line situation then I am out of luck if they are kept and managed in an on-line location (or if for some unexpected reason the service's servers go down or are rendered unaccessible...) Sure I should be keeping another "backup copy" locally in some other format for that event...but that kinda defeats the purpose in my mind. I do see that PassPack allows for a local backup to be made. Can that backup be accessed "off-line" locally, or is is just for upload restoration again?

2) While I am most sincerely sure that hard-working individuals who develop, design and manage on-line password management sites (like the one you linked to in your post PassPack) do so in an honest and highly professional manner (PassPack Security Overview), I'm personally an ultra-paranoid type. Keeping all my "eggs in someone else's basket" just doesn't yet quite provide the solid confidence I require. While I'm sure the password-packs are as secure as claimed, I can't personally and independently vouch for that.

I'd love to hear someone I respect like Steve Gibson or Bruce Schneier give PassPack a lookover and recommendation...that might help me with my adoption reluctance.

So until then, I have to trust what is said about the security model. I have trust that it is "really" true that no-one there can access them and even if the files were accessed that no-one really could break the encryptions. And if I deleted it (the file/account) that it REALLY would be 100% deleted and the server locations of that file would be securely-deleted, in an unrecoverable manner.

I'm not dogging this type of service, just that on-line password services have a VERY high trust barrier to get over with me. Heck, with banks and credit agencies and even our government agencies loosing "securely held" data left-and-right lately...I find it hard to trust anything with passwords and account managers. And by using different applications in tandem, a breach would have to occur in both, making a single point of failure (granted, while still possible) that much more unlikely.

With KeePass , it's open-source so others who are smarted with programming code than I am can inspect the code and comment on any holes and weaknesses. I carry the data with me and can set tremendously high passwords on it if I choose so. I control who accesses it (me) and if I want to destroy it...I'll do a DOD multi-pass wipe on the file. If it is on a USB stick and gets lost or left behind, I'm not too concerned as I know it is locked tightly within a highly passworded TrueCrypt volume on the USB, then the Keypass file itself is highly password. Layers of protection, under my control.

I do see that PassPack does support and assist with complex password generation and what seems to be multiple password barriers. Those are good things!

Yes, a keylogger/trojan combo or similar breach could foreseeably catch the file and my passwords when I access them on a pc, but so could one using the on-line service. It is great that PassPack uses a SSL connection to pass data back and forth.

I do have to concede that plugging/removing a USB stick then mounting a secure volume then accessing a secured password manager is not quite as convenient as logging into a single secured web-page, but that's what I'm comfortable with at this point.

That's just my two-cents....but then in that regard...I'm a bit "old-school."

I am quite sure there will be quite a large number of users out there who will find value and gratitude in the flexibility and convenience that on-line password management services's a model that just isn't (yet) for me to use.

Thanks for taking the time to share this new service with me. I'll be keeping a close eye on it's ongoing development. I will have to sign up for an account to test it out myself with "dummy" data to get a fair and honest first-person experience with it.

If it ends up being as promising as it looks...I might have to post about it in near future. There is a bit of buzz on the Net about it right now.

Good luck with the rollout! I do that mean it sincerely!