Tuesday, October 31, 2006

PStart, and Portable Applications

I recently acquired a Sandisk Cruzer Micro 1GB. It came with the U3 system installed on it. I have been using it every day now. I run Firefox, Skype, and several other apps port ably. I can't say enough about how convenient this is, even with some of the small shortcomings, but what to do if you have a non-U3 compatible USB stick?

There is a handy website, portableapps.com, that hosts portable applications and even a whole portable suite. They are also the default home for a few of the U3 apps. This turns any USB key into a portable app host. If you want the start-menu style functionality then I recommend an application called PStart. Pstart is available for free and gives a non-U3 USB stick U3-like functionality, except that it won't auto run.

When I was looking at PStart I noticed that they have a U3 version. This solves an issue that I had wondered about. How to make a non-U3 portable application easily accessible on my U3 drive. I have PStart installed and set to auto run when the U3 drive is inserted. I get a second icon in the system tray next to the U3 one, that can be used to launch other non-U3 applications I run. Very handy!

I have put Miranda on it, and now use it as my default messenger. (update: I have since switched to Pidgin Portable)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


I found this program when I was having an issue with a USB pen drive. I had installed the USB version of Damn Small Linux, DSL creates a 50 meg partition to install to, and leaves the remaining portion of the drive useless, and when you want to un-install Linux, the entire drive is useless. I couldn't get any of the normal Windows tools or partitioning utilities to remedy the situation either.

This program is actually meant as a drive eraser. It writes zeroes to the entire drive. The beauty of it is that it sees USB drives as regular hard drives and allows you to kill the ENTIRE drive not just the partitions on it. It works on all sorts of flash media and seems to be useful in recovery from all kinds of corruption. I have yet to use it for its intended purpose yet, but I'm sure it does that well also. A registered version gives you more erasing options.

The executable you want to run is: KD_WIN.EXE. It looks like a DOS program but is Win32. Make sure you know what you are erasing when you run this because it is VERY effective! Remember, this program is for when all else has failed and you simply want the drive back, it will ERASE EVERYTHING!

Download it here

Monday, October 23, 2006

And, After a Long Absence.... Hamachi, and Avvenu

I know... I started this page, and then...NOTHING!! I apologize to any and all of you that might have landed here expecting to read something interesting. I intend to make this a regular task now, so here we go:

The company I work for in Manhattan has 12 offices around the country. We connect them using hardware-based VPN's. We also have a few outside employees using IPSEC VPN client software provided by our VPN firewall vendor. The software doesnt always work the way you want it to though, and is more than some people really need.

After the server-based remote-control software GoToMyPC.com got popular, and followed by LogMeIn, which I reviewed here previously, I wondered if the same technology could be used to create a VPN connection. Enter Hamachi!

Hamachi is a centrally-managed zero-configuration VPN service, consisting of free client software, and the server cluster which is managed by Hamachi (now owned by LogMeIn Inc.) You install the client on two computers anywhere in the world, and create a network between them. You are allowed up to 16 free clients per network. There is also a very reasonable professional version without the connection limit, with many extra features, and the ability to run as a service in Windows.

I have tried it with my systems, one in NJ, one in upstate NY, and my offices here in Manhattan and Long Island. I am able to share drives, printers, and connect Outlook to my Exchange server here in the city. I have closed many of the ports I had open in my system for access now that I can use Hamachi to get remote access between systems instead.

There are obvious security questions, similar to the ones raised at Hamachi's parent company and their competitor GoToMyPC, but the reviews I have read seem to have faith in Hamachi's creators and claims of a secure system. This is not a replacement for my hardware VPN's but gives me a quick and easy alternative when I have to get someone functional off site with little or no notice. Read more at Wikipedia.

Avvenu was mentioned recently in an article in PC Magazine about smartphones. Being the recent recipient of a Verizon XV-6700, I was interested. It isn't for just Pocket PC's though, it works on desktop computers too.

Avvenu installs as a service on your PC and allows you to log in to a web based interface from any other computer and browse your shared files. It shows photos as thumbs automatically and streams your audio files to the media player of your choice. You can also make folders and files available to someone else with an emailed link that expires at a pre-chosen interval. You could host your own photos to friends and family, stream some music to yourself or someone else, and get instant access to forgotten files from any PC or handheld when you cant get to your own computer.

I am still discovering uses for both of these services everyday, and would be able to ramble on for hours about them. I will spare you though.....

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Microsoft owns the office suite market. No arguing that these days. Lotus has fallen into obscurity, still used religiously by a small group of loyal accountants, and Corel sells very little of its Word Perfect, and Quattro Pro offerings compared to Word, and Excel.

Corporations have recently been the target of license auditing by Microsoft, receiving letters that they are in violation of their licensing agreements if they have gone beyond the number of licenses they purchased. I am not condoning pirating of these applications, but Microsoft's scare tactics have many people heading in a new direction.

When I first saw the predecessor to OpenOffice, it had come with a copy of Caldera Linux, and was called Star Office. It was clunky and bloated, but got the job done, as this was long before there was any other Linux office suite that worked at all. The windows version was available free for personal use, and was scary enough to avoid. Then Sun purchased Star, and made a parallel open-source offering called OpenOffice.

The newest version is impressive. Impressive enough that more and more people, including corporate users, have been using it in place of Microsoft Office. The transition is not perfect since OpenOffice is not an exact clone of MS Office, there is a small learning curve, but all functionality is there. There are even a few things that it does better. It comes with equivalents for Word, Excell, Power Point, and Access. The only thing missing is an Outlook clone, and for those people running newer versions of Exchange, Outlook Web Access is usually enough these days.

Give it a try! Available for Windows, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, and MacOS.

Click Here to Download OpenOffice.org

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Log Me In

Those of us that move around a lot, deal with multiple computers, or support friends, family members, or even clients, use remote-control software. PCAnywhere was always the solution years ago, with a few other contenders (Carbon Copy, LapLink, etc..). For network use there is always VNC, and RDP, but they have their limitations, mostly if you have to traverse a firewall.

A number of years ago, GoToMyPC.com came on the scene. Using a web-based solution they were able to provide good remote control, through almost any kind of security layer. The problem is, it tends to get pricey if you need to support multiple hosts. Enter LogMeIn.

LogMeIn offers a freeware version with no host limit. You can access all of your computers from anywhere. It runs in IE, or Firefox, and even provides an HTML-only solution for non-compliant browsers. You can adjust the settings for slower networks, and the screen scaling is excellent. There is even a good PocketPC client for handhelds and smartphones.

The registered version offers file transfer and printing. I have an ftp server and an internet based printer, so I do fine without. You can also use a PDF creator like this one from Sector7G and email the results to yourself. There is an enhanced version called IT Reach that is great for IT departments, and a no-install help tool called Rescue, that allows full remote control, but never installs, and disappears completely when finished.

Check out all of these tools at http://www.logmein.com


Welcome to my Freeware page. I will try to post 2-3 programs per-week, utilities, or services here that I have found that are free, or near free. Feel free to respond with your comments and recommendations.