Terry's Computer Tips - Newsletter
March 30, 2008

Terry's Computer Tips Newsletter
http://www.terryscomputertips.com
A computer tips newsletter for users of PC's.

Volume 3, Number 42 — Sunday, March 30, 2008

 

IN THIS WEEK'S ON-LINE ISSUE:
   1.   Choosing to Send Plain Text or HTML in Outlook Emails
   2.   Updates Last Week
   3.   My Computer Security Software Recommendations
   4.   Backing Up Your Files
   5.   Recommend my Terry's Computer Tips Newsletter to Your Friends

Welcome to the on-line edition of my Terry's Computer Tips newsletter.

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1.  Choosing to Send Plain Text or HTML in Outlook Emails

One of the first things many people do, when they find that Outlook will let them use different fonts and stationery in their emails, is to start experimenting.

While personal friends may think these are cute, we quickly realize that many others don't want to all the glitz and glitter — they read emails and mailing lists for information. In some cases, the email programs display all the formatting codes in addition to the text we wrote, so the message effectively becomes unreadable. By he way, these emails are formatted using HTML (the language of web browsers like Internet Explorer) by default.

Fortunately, Outlook allows us to easily switch between HTML-formatted email (the default), Rich-Text-formatted emails (let's just say that it's best to ignore this option — it seems to be the worst of both worlds), and Plain Text.

If you send most of your emails to people who like HTML-formatted emails, and if you're willing to accept the complaints when you send HTML-formatted emails to people who don't want HTML email, you can change the formatting type of individual emails.

Tech Tip
Why do many people not want HTML-formatted emails? It's not just the glitz and glamour. The real issue is that HTML-formatted emails are displayed using Internet Explorer. Over the years, many computers have become infected via HTML emails and IE's security weaknesses.

To change an individual email, the first step to open the email and find the formatting pull-down option box.

Click on the down-pointing triangle at the right-hand side of the option box. The available options will be displayed; HTML, Rich Text, and Plain Text.

Word will open a dialog box to warn you that any text you've entered will be reformatted as plain text. In other words, you don't have to make this choice before starting the email — you can write the email and then change the setting before you send it.

Even if you've entered nothing so far, the formatting has been set and will be cleared. If you don't want to see the warning again, click the "DOn't show ths dialog box again" checkbox. Click Continue.

Now, you get the message window again, so you can write your message.

Finally, you can set Outlook 2003's configuration to use "Plain Text" all the time for emails (unless you override the setting in the individual email).

On Outlook's menu bar, click Tools > Options, then click the Mail Format tab. Change the setting from HTML to Plain Text.

Don't bother picking a font or stationery type, since these are only pertinent in HTML and Rich Text emails. In fact, when you select Plain Text, the Font and Stationery options will be greyed-out and unavailable.


(click on the image for a larger version)

That's it. You can change individual emails and you can change the default setting.

Now, you can use fancy fonts and stationery in personal emails and you can use plain text in mailing lists where plain text is preferred, recommended or demanded.

 

 
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2.  Updates Last Week

Microsoft (operating systems, email, web browser, office suites):
Microsoft releases almost all updates once per month, on the second Tuesday. Last week did not include Patch Tuesday.

Firefox (web browser, http://www.mozilla.com, free):
New version last week. Version 2.0.0.13 was released on Tuesday, March 25th. This release is a security update.

Opera (web browser, http://www.opera.com, free):
No new version this week. Version 9.26 was released on February 20th. This is a security and stability upgrade.

Opera 9.50 beta 1 became available on October 25th. Based on the changelog, there are a lot of changes coming to Opera. But, beware, if you're using OperaMail, this is a one-way upgrade as it will change your mail storage system.

SeaMonkey (web browser, email, HTML editor, newsreader; http://www.mozilla.org/projects/seamonkey; free): New version last week. Version 1.1.9 was released on March 25, 2008. This update was a security update.

Eudora (email, http://www.eudora.com):
No update last week. Version 7.1.0.9 was released October 11, 2006. Eudora is now free, with no ads and no "paid mode" option.

The third public beta version of v8 (v8.0.0.b3) was released on February 22, 2008, and is now available from http://wiki.mozilla.org/Eudora_Releases .

Mozilla Thunderbird (email, http://www.mozilla.com/thunderbird, free):
No new version this week.Thunderbird version 2.0.0.12 was released on February 26, 2008. This is primarily a security update.

OpenOffice (office suite — spreadsheet, word processor, presentations, graphics, web design; http://www.openoffice.org; free): New version this week! Version 2.4 was released during the week ending March 28th. This version has many new features, enhancements, and bug fixes


 
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3.  My Computer Security Software Recommendations

I review my security software recommendations and update them, for each weekly newsletter issue, if I think they need to change.

My Philosophy: Many people want to pick their most economical solution and prefer an all-in-one anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall solution. In concept, that's a great idea. In actual practice, this type of package is not likely to be the best in all the protection categories you need.

Other people want to pick the best of each type program. I'm one of the these folks. Read about my security software choices.

Anti-Virus

I'm often asked about several other popular anti-virus or anti-virus combination packages. Yes, I realize that they are not in my recommendation list. "Enough said..."

My personal choice is the ESET's small, fast NOD32 anti-virus program, which offers a FREE 30-day evaluation license. I consider NOD32 to be the cream of the crop in anti-virus protection. Unlike some of the others, ESET offers multiple-year licenses also, including updates to the program in the multiple-year license.

Many antivirus programs will offer you an anti-virus signature subscription renewal when your subscription renews. I strongly recommend against this option — buy the full program or make sure you get program updates with the subscription renewal (like NOD32 does). Vendors routinely improve the capabilities and speed of the programs, too.

If you update only the signatures, you miss any program improvements. Fortunately, NOD32's subscriptions include both program updates and signature updates.

Read more about anti-virus programs on my web site.

Related articles:

Firewall Software

While the Windows XP firewall is much better than no firewall at all, don't count on the Windows XP firewall to meet your needs. You need a two-way firewall, which the Windows XP firewall is not!. Microsoft woke up and supplied a two-way firewall with Windows Vista.

The Windows XP firewall does not control outbound communications originating from your computer — and you should want to have control if adware/trojans/spyware or even commercial products want to talk to the Internet. Whether they are calling home or spewing spam, you want to be able to control your computer.

Do you want Windows Media Player to call home every time you play something? It does! Do you use the Search function in Windows Explorer to find things on your hard drive? Did you know that every time you search, Windows Explorer talks to Microsoft?

I didn't know that when I ran ZoneAlarm, but the Sunbelt Personal Firewall flags that to me, and I can stop it or allow it to happen. Many other programs try to call home when you run them, too.

I recommend my choice for a firewall program, which is Sunbelt Personal Firewall.

You can try the full-featured "paid version" of Sunbelt Personal Firewall free for 30 days — after that, you can register it or, if you're using it on a home non-business computer, you can let it revert to the free, lesser-function license.

Sunbelt Personal Firewall is regularly $19.95 (with discounts for multiple computers and/or multiple years!) for a non-expiring license for the program and includes one year of their updates subscription.

Related articles:

Anti-Spyware / Anti-Adware Software

CounterSpy, from Sunbelt Software, has received many kudos from the computer press for its always-running and periodic full system scans. It is also my personal choice for my PC's and my family's PC's.

Sunbelt released their CounterSpy v2 in February 2007 and I promptly updated my computers to it. Version 2 greatly improved CounterSpy's performance and reduced its load on the computer when it was scanning.

In July, 2007, Sunbelt released v2.5 of CounterSpy, which again both improved CounterSpy's performance against malware and reduced its impact on system resources and responsiveness when its scanning.

Sunbelt continues to release updated program versions. Nicely, they do NOT install the updated programs automatically. You have to use the Update process in the program, which means that you'll know that something significant has changed!

Related articles:

Anti-spam Software

In today's Internet world, the question is not "if" you will get spam, but "how much will you get?"

I use and now I recommend POPFile as my first choice for handling spam. POPFile sits on your computer, between your email program and your ISP mailbox, and handles emial as it downloads.

POPFile uses a different approach to handle spam than some other programs do — it does nothing to reduce spam. It is designed as an email classification tool — you train it to recognize spam and any other type of email that you want to classify. These classifications can help you sort your emails into appropriate folders in your email program.

Sunbelt Software, who makes the anti-spyware program CounterSpy (which I use and recommend) and the firewall that I use and recommend (Sunbelt Personal Firewall) also has a well-regarded, award-winning anti-spam program called iHateSpam for Outlook and Outlook Express. Since I don't use Outlook or Outlook Express for email, I haven't tried iHateSpam.

Mailwasher Pro is my first choice to handle spam before it ever gets into your computer's Inbox. Mailwasher Pro uses on-line Realtime Black Lists mail servers sending spam recently, "training" by you of what you think is spam, and your own "friends" and "blacklist" lists.

Mailwasher Pro can even bounce spam messages, as if your email address was not valid, although the usefulness and appropriateness of this is questionable. There is a free version called "Mailwasher," but it omits the functions that I consider critical for this purpose -- such as safely previewing the emails safely before they ever get to your email inbox.

Related articles:

Cable/DSL Router

If you have a cable modem or a DSL modem, you need to have another layer of inexpensive protection between you and the Internet. A cable/DSL router isolates your computer from direct connection to the Internet. Your computer can easily request your email, web pages, etc. through the router. The responses come back to the router and are smoothly routed to your computer. But, someone on the Internet side of the router can not initiate a connection to your computer — they can only respond to your request.

Even if you only have one computer to connect to your cable or DSL modem, I recommend that you purchase and use a cable/DSL router because of the protection it can give you against attempts to attack through some flaws in Windows itself.

A router isolates your local network, whether it is only one computer or several, from the Internet by actually making it a separate network. The router gets the "public" IP address and handles all your outbound communications and the responses to them. But, it blocks computers on the Internet side from being able to initiate communications with your computer! This will prevent you from falling prey to many worms that try to attack security holes in Windows itself.

For a wireless router, I recommend the Linksys WRT54G wireless router. I'm using the relatively new version 6 of this router.

If you don't want wireless, I recommend the Linksys BEFSR41 wired router. Either way, based on my experience, I recommend Linksys routers for price, reliability and Linksys' habit of releasing updated firmware for their products..

Tech Tip
By the way, if you get tempted by the new "802.11n" routers, please pay close attention. So far, the 802.11n specification has not been approved and finalized.

If you buy one, you may be locked into a specific vendor's implementation of a draft of a standard that never got approved. I recommend choosing 802.11g for now.

See these related articles:

 

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4.  Backing Up Your Files

This week, EJ wrote to ask about backing up his computer:

Terry, what program do you use to back up your files

I use two programs routinely.

First, every evening, I use Karen's Replicator (www.karenware.com, free for personal, non-business use) to copy my data files to another computer across my home network. Not only does this give me a backup copy in case of the inevitable, accidental error (such as editing a file, saving it, and then realizing that I forgot to save it with a different file name), it also gives me a backup in case of a failure of my hard drive.

Replicator lets me set up multiple tasks and specify the day of the week and the time for them to be performed. If I set several for the same time, they will run in the order listed.

I also use Replicator to make a backup of certain files on my hard drive to another location on my hard drive. This gives me an easily accessible copy for that brain-freeze error.

Then, on a weekly basis, I use Acronis True Image 11 to make an image of my C: drive. I have True Image set to store that image on another computer on my home network.

Sometimes I make a full image of the hard drive. Most often, I make an "incremental image" which picks up only the changes since the last incremental backup. This creates the smallest set of additional files.

Tech Tip
I could select the other partial backup option, called Differential Backup. This would make a copy of all changes to the hard drive since the last Full Backup.

Finally, occasionally, I back up directly to an external drive. Then I disconnect it and store it away from my computer,

If your external drive is turned on and is connected to your computer, then your backups are susceptible to damage by viruses etc, just as if they were on your main hard drive. If it's turned off and is still connected, it's still susceptible to electical damage via the connections, for example, a lightning-induced power surge.

The only real backup is turned off, disconnected and put away. If you really need a reliable backup, rotate multiple external drives and keep them off-site. Do a Google search for "backup strategy" to learn more.

Some of my related articles are:

Related articles:

 

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Volume 3, Number 42 — Sunday, March 30, 2008

Copyright © 2008 Terry A. Stockdale.  All rights reserved.


 

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