Sky+ to DVD

Hi Rick, is it possible to connect a Sky+ receiver to a PC and transfer a recording, via the hard drive, to a DVD?  My PC has a SCART socket.  Would I need any additional software?

Chris Elms


A. Yes and no... If you are asking is it possible to copy digital data from a Sky+ box direct to a PC and somehow convert that into a DVD then the answer is no, at least not without hiking the drive out of the Sky+ box and cracking open the encrypted and copy protected files. On the other hand you can record from its analogue AV output, in which case your PC will need an analogue AV input, in the form of a new video adaptor card, or a USB AV input module, like ‘Dazzle’, which is used to make DVDs from camcorder tapes (now selling for around £50 on Amazon UK). Dazzle also comes with DVD editing and authoring software, which makes the job even easier. The downside to this method is there will be a noticeable drop in picture quality as the picture signal has to go through several stages of conversion, from digital to analogue, then back again, from analogue to digital, furthermore DVD authoring involves compressing the already highly processed picture data, so the end result can be a bit whiskery



Free, but not easy…

Hi Rick, I removed my firewall together with Norton to ease email sending problems and replaced it with AVG but I can’t find a free firewall. Your PCTopTips website says Kerio Personal Firewall is free but on their website it isn’t free.  I’m not sure what ‘freeware’ means? Can you recommend a free firewall please? I’m running Windows XP.

Ian Lyman


A. There is still a free version of Keiro, but for obvious reasons they would much prefer you to buy the paid-for version, and very good it is too, and it only costs $9.95 a the moment, so it’s not going to break the bank. Anyhoo, to get the free version, which has some features disabled, all you have to do is click on the download for the free trial of the retail version and install it. It will run in full mode for 30 days, after which you can either pay the licence fee, or leave it running in ‘Free’ mode. There’s a list of the features that will be switched off after the trial but the free components will still do a good job of protecting your PC. Other free firewalls I am happy to recommend are Comodo and of course, the granddaddy of free firewalls, Zone Alarm (free Basic).


Don’t forget Windows XP also has a built-in firewall, and it certainly provides protection against incoming attempts to hack into your computer but one the major flaw is that it doesn’t stop programs and nasties on your PC from ‘phoning home’, spying on you or using your Internet connection without your permission, which the free programs mentioned do.


For the record freeware means free software, no ifs or buts. I always try to make a clear distinction between freeware and the many other types of downloadable software, such as Trialware (time limited trial of full program), Shareware (usually free to try, or some features disabled, but you should pay a licence fee if you continue to use it), Donationware (freeware but the author would really appreciate a donation if you continue to use it) and Open Source usually free, but donations welcome, and user development and participation encouraged. I always recommend paying the licence fee or sending a donation, even if a program is completely free. It helps and encourages the authors and companies to continue developing their software, and if nothing else, it’s just polite!



Make it disappear

Hi Rick, I am currently backing up my data to an external USB drive using Back2Zip. The back-up folder is currently on view to anybody who uses my external drive. Are there any password protect or hide programs (freeware or otherwise) available that are suitable for this purpose?

David Turner


A. I think the first thing to do is stop others from accessing your USB drive, especially if it contains sensitive data. Keep it in your pocket, on a chain around your neck, or lock it away, leaving it lying around is just asking for trouble. I’m not familiar with the archiving program you are using, but most, including the granddaddy of them all WinZip has a password protection facility, which at the very least will stop a casual snooper getting at your files. If you really want to make your files inaccessible then they should be encrypted, if you are using Windows XP Pro or Vista you should have this facility already. Another option is to use a little utility that I mentioned last year on my PCTopTips website, called Hide Folder, which does what it says, and makes folders invisible, until you enter a password.



Perplexing Picasa

Hi Rick, I'm not a computer whiz by any stretch of the imagination! I think I transferred some digital photographs from my camera's memory card using Picasa 2 software. This automatically transfers to a "default" file but I am unable to locate the file and thus my photos. Any ideas?

Colin Phipps


A. Picasa is a wonderful piece of software, and I love it to bits but the filing system is an absolute nightmare, and even when you think you know your way around it can still catch you out, but more on that in a moment.


When you import images from a memory card by default Picasa saves them in a sub folder in the My Pictures folder. When you carry out the import function you will be asked to give the folder a name, and you can’t continue until you put something in the Name box, though it will accept a space; if you leave it blank the folder it creates will be simply called ‘Album’


One of my gripes with Picasa is that its not obvious from the file tree display where the original images are stored, and it really gets confusing when you create new albums or folders from exiting collections as these can end up on the bottom of the tree.


On the plus side it’s worth knowing that even though you can edit images in Picasa to destruction, the originals are never touched, unless you resave the edited image. Instead it saves the changes on the displayed thumbnails, and in a series of database files. It also squirrels away copies of edited image files in hidden folders called Originals. For good measure there’s more database files detailing search information, keywords and captions, unsaved edits, starred images and albums and a whole host of other information and this usually ends up in your ‘user’ and ‘application data’ folders. My advice to you, and anyone else who is curious about what makes Picasa tick is, don’t go there, just accept that it works…



Sandbox or Virtual System

Hi Rick, your recent tip about Returnil reminded me of a previous mention of Sandibox, which I noted at the time but never tried. It's true that I'm easily confused these days, but reading the summaries of the principles of the two programs on their respective sites left me none the wiser about what the basic differences are, if any, or which would be likely to be more effective. Could you please shed some light on this?

Derek Wildman


A. It’s true that superficially they do appear to do similar things but there are fundamental differences. Sandibox runs inside Windows, in a temporary chunk of hard disc memory called a ‘sandbox’. It is specifically designed to contain programs that connect to Internet. Programs, such as your browser or an online game, run inside the sandbox and are unable to access or make any changes to the system.  Returnil takes the sandbox idea one stage further and runs a copy of your whole system inside a ‘virtual’ partition on your hard drive, but it doesn’t try to protect it. This means you can try out new things, beta programs and even dodgy software, and if it infects or crashes the virtual system it doesn’t matter because your real system is isolated and the damaged system will be deleted, and recreated the next time you boot your PC.



Crap Advice

Hi Rick, in the days when you had a Thursday column in the Telegraph, I followed your advice then and installed CrapCleaner. When I purchased my next PC with Windows XP, I again used it and found it very useful as in a single operation I emptied recycle bin, deleted e-mails, internet history, cookies etc. Now I just have a new PC with Windows Vista Home Premium.


Would you still recommend CrapCleaner for the above functions, or a better alternative? On my old PC I did once run CrapCleaner’s Registry cleaner, but did not action it as after 4 years the list for action was too long, and I remember your advice not to go into the registry unless a confident PC user. If CrapCleaner is OK, would you recommend fully using the Registry Cleaner regularly from the beginning?  


On my PC now I have Norton 360. With this and Windows Defender, is there any need for anti spyware protection to also run AdAware (another of your recommendations) I found most useful as further protection?

Alistair Spears


A. Thanks for remembering those Thursday columns, and I hope you’re still with me in the Saturday edition of the newspaper, you’ll find my ‘Houston We have a Problem’ column in the Review section.


Okay, enough of the plug, Crap Cleaner, or CCleaner as the publishers prefer it to be known these days still does a bang-up job in Vista and all previous versions of Windows, back to Win 98, and you’ll find a link to the download (it’s free!) on the software page of my PCTopTips website.


You are right to be wary of Registry Cleaners, they can wreak havoc, but the one in CCleaner is pretty safe. However, before you use it set a System Restore Point, and rather than use it to clear all errors and anomalies in one go, select maybe 20 to 30 at a time, reboot and check for error messages. It has a Registry Backup facility so you should be able to get out of trouble if anything untoward happens.


I’m not a fan of Norton software but if it works for you, stick with it; between them Windows Defender and AdAware should do a very reasonable job of keeping out Malware, just remember to run checks every week or two and as a final touch, I suggest switching to Firefox as well, and that way your PC should be safe from the nasties.  




IE in Firefox

Hi Rick, having suddenly had problems with onelook.com in Firefox, I followed your tip to install IEView and clicked ‘Always open in Internet Explorer’ and everything was fine. I would like to try to open onelook in Firefox again, but how do I do it?

Colin Baker


A. No problem, and for anyone who hasn’t tried it, IE View is a Firefox extension that you can set to open Internet Explorer for selected websites that only work properly in IE. To remove a site all you have to do is go to Tools > Add-ons, select IE View and click the Options button. Select the Main tab and you’ll see a list of the sites you’ve chosen to open with the program, simply highlight the one you want to remove and click Delete.


While we are on the subject, I have come across an even smarter Firefox extension for IE only websites, but unlike IE View, IE Tab actually opens an Internet Explorer window inside Firefox. It’s really clever and you can even access normally difficult sites, like Windows Updates from inside Firefox.


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