Internet Email & Networks



Browsing To The Max

We’ve sung the praises of the Firefox add-on AdblockPlus on several occasions. It does exactly what it says and blocks almost all of the ads that appear on browser pages. Now they’ve gone one step further and joined forces with Maxthon, to create a fast web browser with industrial-strength ad blocking built in, that is particularly effective against the stuff on social media sites. It’s called Maxthon Web Browser, it’s free Open Source and currently available in Windows and Android versions (a Mac version is in the pipeline). In addition to blocking those annoying pop up and push down ads, it’s also pretty nimble and its puts the kybosh on tracking cookies and provides a high degree of protection against malware. Rather than take the sledgehammer approach and block ads, there are options for the user to take control and allow some types of ads through the filter. The settings menus in the PC version also cover a lot of ground and include some really quite handy features like Night Mode (switches off bright white backgrounds), one-click screen grab, mouse gestures and note pad. Definitely worth a try if you’re ad-averse!



Forgetful Firefox

If you have downloaded the latest version of Firefox you maybe interested in a new feature called the Forget button. Basically it does exactly what it says, and clicking on it displays a big red button that will instantly close all open tabs and windows, delete recent cookies, delete history and opens a clean, new window, and heed the warning that it can’t be undone. You can set it to cover just the last 5 minutes, the last 2 hours, or the last 24 hours. It’s no good looking for it on the toolbar though, as it is not displayed by default, so here’s how to make it appear. Left click on an empty part of the tool or title bar and select Customize. You’ll see the Forget button in the man screen, click and hold on it then drag it to your preferred location on the toolbar and let go, and that’s all there is to it.



Hello Hola

Fancy watching a spot of American TV? Viewing foreign TV channels (or UK stations, when abroad) over the internet sounds like a great idea and it should be easy, but as anyone who as tried it will know most popular TV streaming services use IP location blocking, to stop anyone accessing their material if they are in another country. There are ways around it and one of the most popular methods is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service or software that ‘spoofs’ your location, but the free ones options are generally not very good, the bandwidth is necessarily restricted and there may be time or data limits and intrusive ads, and even some of the subscription based VPS can prove unreliable. Undeterred, here’s another free one to try and at the moment it works really well. It’s a browser extension called Hola (or dedicated browser) and it’s a bit cleverer than most of the others, and a lot easier to use. Once installed all you have to do is open your browser, click on the Hola icon and it displays icons for the most popular IP Blocked services in the country you are in. Click on the one that you want to watch – Hulu in the US is always a good test for VPNs – and it sets about establishing a connection.  So far it hasn’t failed, and as an added bonus there's a useful web accellerator function, but these freebies have a nasty habit of getting blocked if they prove too popular, so please, keep this one to yourself!



Say Hello To Firefox 34

The latest beta release of the Firefox browser has a interesting new feature that you can use it to make audio and video calls. It’s called Firefox Hello and it works with a range of other browsers and video call services that use HTML-5 based WebRTC technology. It’s really easy to use, and there’s no need to create an account. Just download and install Firefox 34 Beta, click the Chat icon that appears in the Customise menu box – better still move it to the toolbar – and you are in Guest Mode. Click on the email link for someone you want to contact, they will be sent a link to respond to and when they do a notification appears on your screen and you are ready to start chatting using audio or video. You can make things even easier by you, and your regular contacts setting up Firefox accounts and you can call them up with a single click on the Contacts list.



Is It Me Or Them?

How many times have you visited a favourite web site, only to be confronted with a ‘404 Error’ or some equally impenetrable message? Most people’s first reaction is to suspect their PC, browser or Internet connection, especially if it’s a big name site that’s always there. In fact nowadays there is a fair chance that the site really is down or inaccessible and it could be for any number of reasons, including growing numbers of DOS (Denial Of Service) attacks, cyber crime, hackers or maybe they’re telling the truth and it is just ‘routine maintenance’, though the fact that it seems to happens in the middle of the day always sounds a bit suspicious… Anyway, if you have a working Internet connection and can access other sites normally all you have to do is enter the downed sites URL into a website called, and it will check and tell you straight away if the site is up and the quality of the connection, and recent history of service interruptions. Not only that, if it is down there is a good chance that within a few minutes other sufferers will have started to leave comments, so you will know that you are not going mad. Quite often there’s a response from someone at the company concerned, hopefully with news about when the outage will end.



Browser Basher

How good is your browser? It’s a simple enough question, but without using fancy software to make lots of complex measurements there’s no easy way for the average users to tell, until now. Internet Explorer Test Drive is a suite of browser checks, using all of the most demanding web technologies to push your browser to its limits, and on most tests there’s a benchmark, so you can compare the results. It all sounds pretty dull but it’s not. Microsoft has chosen some really great material, including a couple of aquarium animations – see if your browser can handle a goldfish bowl of 2000 fish -- or fill up the tropical aquarium, play with Lite Brite, watch pirates sail around your screen or journey around Everest in 3D. There are games, demos (remember Hoover?), Gargantia, the Japanese 3D flight sim and navigate the briny in the classic Assasin’s Creed Pirates. Browser testing has never been so much fun!



Epic Security

Computer users can be surprisingly conservative when it comes to web browsers and relatively few stray beyond the standard offerings of Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, but there is a whole world of alternatives out there, some better than others, but here’s one you should definitely try if you are concerned about privacy and security. It’s called Epic, it is free and it was developed in India and is a loose offshoot of Chromium. Epic reckons that between them, the top 50 websites can install more than 3000 tracking files on your computer so by default it operates in Privacy mode. Basically this means that any data is stored during a session is automatically deleted when you close a tab or exit the browser. It also blocks all attempts by websites and search engines to track your movements and identify you. This doesn’t mean that it’s any less convenient and when you enter a search query it will still help out with web addresses, but instead of sending what you type to a search engine, it uses its own autofill database.  Other useful extras include a one-click proxy option, which hides your IP address. The proxy is also applied automatically when you visit any of the major search engines, so that your searches are not associated with your IP address, and it can be set to display how many web trackers have been blocked when you visit a website.  



Network Knowitall 2

These days you can’t afford not to keep an eye on your broadband connection. It is absolutely essential for anyone on a capped tariff and exceeding your limit, even by a few megabytes, can be expensive. It is just as important for those on uncapped services, sudden unexpected spikes in upload or download traffic could mean that someone is hacking into your account, or you’ve got a malware or spambot infection, and if you have kids, it’s a quick and easy way to keep an eye on what they are up to, after lights-out. What you need is a network monitor, and ideally one that shows how well your connection is performing, so you can keep on top of faults and slowdowns, and a way to keep tabs on your ports, see which brings us to this small and lightweight freeware utility called NetSpeedMonitor. It does all of those things, and more, and when you’re not actively checking your stats it sits quietly and unobtrusively on the taskbar, and if you want an instant information hit, simply hover the mouse pointer over it.



Firefox 29 Available Now

If you are concerned by the reports of the new vulnerability in Internet Explorer or, like a lot of people gave up on clanky old IE a long time ago and moved to Firefox, then you may be interested to know that the latest edition, Version 29, has now come out of beta and is available for general use. You can download it direct from (don’t get it from anywhere else, there are some evil spiked versions doing the rounds). If you are already using it, to load the update all you have to do is go to Help > Tools > About. The beta has been around for a while and hopefully all of the glitches have been ironed out by now so it should be safe to give it a whirl. First impressions are good. The updated interface is slick with newly designed tabs, easier access to Add-Ons and frequently used features through the Menu icon, more customisation features, single-click bookmarks, improved sync options across different devices and it even seems to run a little faster.



Moon Light

Firefox remains the browser of choice when it comes to flexibility but as so often happens, it’s suffering from middle age spread. When it first came out this highly adaptable browser really flew along and did so much more than tired old Internet Explorer but it’s getting a bit sluggish in its old age. It’s weighed down with features and options, many of which you don’t want or need and it’s a notorious memory hog, so perhaps it’s time to get back to basics. Have a look at Pale Moon, Firefox source code is still there, under the bonnet, but the developers have stripped out some of the stuff you don’t need, added a few useful extras, tweaked the bits that you want to keep and left in important facilities, like compatibility with plug-ins and extensions. Give it a try, it’s free it might even restore your faith in browsers.



Flying Firefox

Those of us who use the Firefox browser, and have lived with it for a while, will know that it is generally quicker, easier to use and vastly more configurable than poor old Internet Explorer. But long-time users will also know that after a while it slows down, and it’s a terrible resource hog, consuming far more than its fair share of memory and CPU time. If you know where to look you can drill down into its config menu and tweak some settings to make it a lot livelier, opening pages faster and spending less time faffing around, but this is not for novices, in which case, may we direct your attention to a simple free utility called Firefox Booster. Once you’ve downloaded it all you have to do is run the program, tell it what type of Internet connection you have, click OK, restart Firefox and it’s job done! The improvements are modest but worthwhile, but if you want to really make Firefox fly then you have to poke around the innards, and there’s a simple to follow tutorial on the problogbooster site, but only go there if you know what you are doing!



Safer Surfing For Kidz

The evils of the Internet are never far from the headlines, and they are certainly is a lot of very dodgy stuff out there if you go looking for it We adults can make our choices, but it’s not so easy to stop children from stumbling across stuff they should be seeing. Even the best parents can’t always keep an eye on what they are up to, so here’s something you can do if your children have a PC, or access to one, It’s a browser designed specifically for youngsters. It’s called Kidzy, it’s free and it’s kitted out with a range of tools that block unsavoury sites, limit browsing to specified sites, set time limits and hopefully keep them out of harm’s way. Of course it’s still not a substitute for parental guidance and vigilance but it’s a useful first line of defence that should help to kids out of harm’s way.  



Browser Memory Manager

Web browsers are terrible memory hogs and just having three or

four tabs open can consume vast amounts of system resources, so what can you do about it? Here’s one possibility, that seems to free up significant amounts of memory used by the most popular browsers, including IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari and Green. It’s a free Open Source utility called eMo Web Browse Optimizer, and although it’s not clear exactly how it works, you can easily see what sort of effect it is having from the memory gauge in Windows Processes in Task Manager. A quick tests with Firefox and IE showed a 60 percent reduction in memory usage, and that’s a very useful saving that can help prevent slowdowns and glitches in other running applications.



Route To Safer Surfing

As we all know the Internet can be a dodgy place but it can be made a whole lot safer, especially when you are out and about, using something called a Virtual Private Network or VPN. In a nutshell this protects the data flowing in and out of your PC whiles you are connected to a potentially unsafe wireless network. VPNs have been around for a while and free ones, like Hotspot Shield provide a useful extra layer of security, but here’s a another one, called NeoRouter, which is also free and has some interesting extra bells and whistles. First off it’s cross platform and works on virtually any operating system, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. In addition to VPS it also lets you securely access your home computer from anywhere, You can help friends and relatives with their PC problems with a remote access feature, you can also share media and play network games and connect to peer 2 peer networks on PCs behind firewalls. It can also function as a portable application and run from a USB drive, so you can safely use shared computers or Internet cafes. For most users setup is reasonably straightforward and should only take a few minutes, the only potential stumbling block for novices is the need to set up port forward on a router, when installing the Server software but this is not difficult and is normally explained in the router’s setup guide.



Network Knowitall

How much do you know about your home or small office network? Probably not a lot, and for most of us, if it works we leave well alone, but that’s a big mistake. These days it’s important to know precisely who and what is tapping into your system. That’s precisely what a freeware utility called Network Scanner does. Just fire it up and it shows you the name, IP address and MAC address of every PC or device that’s connected, and that’s just for starters. It can help pinpoint security holes by showing shared and hidden folders, and which ones are writable. It scans for listening TCP (and some UDP and SNMP) ports, and pings all devices, which can be handy for troubleshooting connection problems. There’s plenty more besides, and advanced users will find the more sophisticated tools very useful but it’s worth having just to see how your network is being used.



Free and Easy Hotspot

Here’s a handy little free utility for users of Windows 7 and 8. It’s called Virtual Router and it turns your PC or laptop into a wireless hotspot, so you can share your Internet connection with other computers, tablets, smartphones and media players, without having to go to the expense of buying a Wi-Fi router. It’s also useful for extending the reach of your existing wireless network, if, for example you have thick walls or your devices are too far away from your main router to get a good signal. It’s fully secured too, with the strongest WPA2 encryption. As you may know this facility already exists in W7 and 8, but it’s buried deep and involves a fair amount of tinkering to get it to work; this program does it all for you and it only takes a minute or two to set up. The only requirement is that you have MS NET Framework installed, it’s included W8 but if for some reason it’s not there you’ll be prompted and directed to the Microsoft download.



Pushing The Boat Out

You would think by now that we had all of the browsers that we need, and there was no longer any need to stray beyond he big four (IE, Firefox, Chrome and Safari), but you would be wrong, and there’s a new kid on the block, called SlimBoat. It’s free and off to a good start and available for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems, but the big question is what makes it special? First off, it’s fast, very fast and it opens in about half he time of most other browsers. Next, it’s dripping with fancy features and customisations, straight out of the box, it’s a browser for power users, none of that namby-pamby minimalist, hidden toolbars and icon stuff here, and for the most part, no need to download add-ons and plug-ins to make it do useful things, they’re all built in. It has an impressive range of security features with ready to use ad and popup blockers, there’s one-click translation a fast download manager and very well thought out Form Filler that automatically can automatically fill out many different styles of webform from the data you supply, and it actually works rather well. There’s lots more to see and do and as usual with browsers, you can try new ones without deleting or uninstalling your old one, you can even use two different ones at the same time, so give it a try, and see what you think.



Ten Minute Spam Stopper

We all hate spam and do our best to avoid receiving it but some always seems to get through, so how are they getting hold of our email addresses? The simple answer is that no matter how careful you are there are occasions when you willingly hand over your details, and even if you tick all the right boxes, your address can still be sold on or fall into the wrong hands. One of the ways we let down our guard is when we sign up for web sites and services that ask you to create an account. Quite often the process involves the site sending you an email with a registration, password or activation message. Whether you like it or not you have to provide them with a genuine email address, and bingo, you're tagged! Well, here's a way to meet the registration criteria, with a working email address, and you can pick up any messages sent to it through your browser, but here's the clever bit, it has no connection to you, and ten minutes after it has been created it self-destructs. It's called 10 Minute Mail and as soon as you visit the web page your temporary address is created, along with an email inbox, so you can read any messages sent to it during it's ten-minute lifespan. It's simple to use and free, and another useful weapon in the war against spam



Microsoft Web Giveaway

Okay, don’t get too excited, but freebies from Microsoft are always worth checking out and this one is no exception, especially if you are interested in producing professional looking web sites. The program in question is Microsoft Expression Web 4, and it’s actually part of a much larger giveaway, bought about by Microsoft’s decision to end its Expression range of software products. Back to Expression Web, and in case you are wondering what the catch is, there isn’t one, though since it is now free and the end of the line, don’t expect any support (unless you have previously paid for it), or any new versions updates of bug fixes. The rest is all good news, Expression Web is a fully featured, high-end web page editor, and it supports all current protocols and HTML5, with plenty of features for advanced users to get their teeth into. It may be a bit daunting for absolute beginners but if you want to get into web design, or just learn what makes web pages tick then this is a way to get hold of some top class software, for the price of a 90Mb download.



Wireless Watch

How secure is your wireless network? The chances are you have WEP or WPA encryption, which is a start, but it can be hacked into, and what about your router, is it still on it’s default passwords? If so then someone could fiddle around with your settings, maybe even hijack your connection. Okay, so you have to fairly determined and reasonably well equipped to crack wireless security, but it can be done, and if it has, how would you know? Maybe you have a capped connection and need to keep an eye on data usage, but how will you know if the kids are secretly downloading monster multimedia files when they think you are not looking? Here’s a really easy way to keep tabs on your wireless network, it’s a little freeware utility called WiFi Guard. It shows who is currently connected to your router, makes regular checks and alerts you when a new or unknown connection is made so you can decide if it is allowed. It’s very unobtrusive, it doesn’t even have to be installed and there are Mac OSX and Linux versions available.



The Outlook Is Bright

If you need to be able to send and receive emails on the move then the old webmail stalwarts Gmail and Yahoo probably meet most of your needs but you might like to give the (relatively) new kid on the block a test run. It’s Microsoft’s, launched earlier this year now boasting more than 25 million users. Like other webmail services you can use it to anywhere on any web browser on any sort of connection, just sign in with your Microsoft Account name to access your inbox and send messages. So what makes it better than the established opposition? We’ll, it has a startlingly clean interface, no ads or banners, there’s a really effective Spam blocker, and it’s really easy to send and receive attachments, files, photos and so on. It’s also easy to drive, and you can opt for the same keyboard shortcuts as Gmail, YahooMail etc. There’s also a very accessible archive feature, an app for Android users, customisation and themes and quick Send, using the Tab button. It sounds as though Microsoft is actually responding to user’s comments, with new features being added all the time. Worth a look-see, especially if you are a heavy-duty webmail user.



Mini Monitor

If you are on a capped broadband tariff, or simply want to keep track of how much data is flowing in and out of your computer then here’s a simple little freeware utility that will keep you on top of things. It’s called ISP Monitor, and here what it can do. First and foremost it keeps a running tally of your data downloads. Next, there’s real-time traffic monitoring showing current network speed. It has a built-in speed checker and you can set it to carry out regular tests every day and keep a log of the results. A handy disc monitor keeps tabs on your free space, so you’ll be warned well in advance if you’re running out. If you like what you see you can upgrade to a premium service with even more features. The only thing to watch out for is that it is preset for a number of Dutch and Belgian ISPs, so the usage bargraph that tells you how far you are into your data allocation won’t work, otherwise it’s fully functional and a useful way to keep watch on your connection. By the way, if speed is an issue, or you've noticed a slowdown recently, there's some handy tips for 

improving your online performance on the website, just click the Guides button..



Cool Dragons

In a world seemingly awash with web browsers you have to wonder if there’s room for two new ones? Well, you can’t argue with the price, Comodo Dragon and IceDragon won’t cost you a bean, (though we’d be frankly amazed if anyone ever tried to charge money for one these days), and they have excellent pedigrees. Dragon is based on Google Chrome and under the bonnet of IceDragon lurks Mozilla Firefox. In case you didn’t know, Comodo are really big in the Internet security biz, which is one of the headline features of the new browsers. The emphasis on secure browsing is apparent straight away in IceDragon as one of the first install screens gives you the option to use Comodo’s own secure DNS servers. This should immediately protect you from a wide range of malicious sites and redirection malware. You can choose to import all of your bookmarks, passwords and so on from the default browser, so installation is fast and easy. They both launch really quickly and are no slouches at loading pages. There are no new tricks to learn either, everything is pretty much where you would expect to find it and they are both very easy to use. Okay, so there’s nothing especially new or groundbreaking on offer but they do look and feel pretty solid, and the added security is always welcome. As with any browser, there’s no obligation and you can still use your existing browser – at the same time if you like – so why not give one or both of them a road test?



Duck And Cover

With all of the fuss and furore swirling around the changes to Google’s privacy policies, now might be a good time to think about a change. My current favourite search engine is, which is pledging not to track your on-line activities. Duckduckgo (just type in the address box) is really clean and easy to use. Google still has the edge for the range and depth of its searches but DDG is growing fast and it takes a slightly different approach to search, including making more use of crowd-sourced resources like Wikipedia.


It’s a little ironic as one of the main attractions of Google in the early days was its famously stripped down and simple to operate user interface, the absence of clutter and the highly laudable ‘do no evil’ motto. Whether or not Duckduckgo will grow as big and as fast remains to be seen, but it’s off to a good start, it works well, and is getting better all of the time so if you are concerned about keeping your web browsing private, then give it a try, and help it to grow.



Cheapskate Hotspot

Long before Android smart phones came along with their brilliant portable wi-fi hot spot apps (these let you share your phone’s Internet connection with a wi-fi enabled PC), a similar feature was touted for Windows 7. Sadly it was dropped from the final release of most versions and the idea slipped from the radar. Well, now it’s back, in the shape of a free Windows 7 program called Connectify Lite. It’s really easy to use, let’s suppose that you and a couple of friends are at the airport or in a hotel, and you are the only one with a Wi-Fi connection to a paid-for hotspot. All you have to do to be Mr Generous (don’t tell the hotspot operator…), is fire up Connectify, give your home-made access point a name, choose a passphrase and your tight-fisted friends or colleagues can now log on – with the passphrase you’ve provided – and share your connection.  



Broadband Bandits?

Have you ever glanced over at your modem and wondered why the lights are flashing, when you don’t have your browser or email programs open? It could be the work of malware but if your security is up to scratch it’s probably just the programs and processes on your computer helping themselves to your Internet connection. Mostly of them do it without asking so much as a by your leave, so who knows what they’re up to…


Wonder no longer, TCPeye is a little freeware program that tells you exactly what’s sucking the juice out of your broadband, it also shows the company name, IP address and location of whoever they’re talking to, whether or not it managed to make a connection, the protocol being used, and all sorts of other interesting details that will allow you to work out if it’s legitimate of not. It’s scary stuff, and you will probably surprised at how much traffic is passing in and out of your machine without your knowledge.




Gmail Gets Better

As many of you know good old Google Gmail is incredibly useful when you go travelling as it allows you to send and receive messages – including your POP3 accounts -- from any web enabled PC or device, anywhere in the world. Gmail works well but there’s one big niggle and that’s the lack of a preview or step facility, that lets you scroll through and read messages in your inbox, without having to open them first. Now it has, and it comes courtesy of Google Labs. It’s simple to switch it on, just click the Labs icon or tab (or click More > Even More > Labs > Gmail Labs). Scroll down the list to Preview Pane, click enable, Gmail should then reload and the pane should appear. If it doesn’t click the Toggle Split Pane mode, next to the page display on the right side.



Watch Your Wireless

One of the biggest concerns for Wi-Fi users is who is connected to my network? Of course, if you have enabled WEP/WPA encryption it’s very unlikely that anyone could hack into your router but even so, the possibility exists, as does the chance that someone with legitimate access is using your broadband without your permission. The security conscious and concerned parents will be interested in this little freeware utility, called Wireless Network Watcher, which shows if there is an unauthorised connection or the kids are doing a spot of illicit or after hours surfing. It displays exactly who is connected, the name of their PC or smart phone, the MAC addresses of the devices they are using, and as an added bonus it also works with wired networks. It's free-standing, so it doesn't need installing and it's small, the download is just 219kb



Terrible Telly

If you have some time on your hands and there’s nothing worth watching on the telly, why not watch some TV…? Download and install AnyTV Free. It’s an online TV aggregator listing hundreds of live TV channels, streams and recordings, including several from the UK. Mostly it shows how bad TV from around the world can be, and quite a few of the channels are only available to users of the Pro version ($39), but there’s still plenty to watch, from BBC Click to a Greek Financial channel, with plenty of movies, news, sports and religious channels in between. Incidentally, one or two of them sound a bit questionable, though despite valiant attempts to verify this we were unable to get them to display, nevertheless you might not want to tell the kids (though they probably already know all about it anyway)…



Quix Software Selector

It’s called Quixy and the only other thing you need to know is that it’s one of the fastest ways to find software on the web. Just tap in what you want to do – word processing, image editing, video editing, and so on – and Quixy comes back to you with a good selection of free and commercial programs and apps, along with a short description listing what they do. It’s free and whilst we wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of its choices or rankings, but this is a beta version so it can only get better and there is no doubt that it is a very easy way to find out what’s available and help sort the wheat from the chaff.



Fire Up The Fox

The Firefox browser is popular for two simple reasons, it works well and it’s largely immune to the vast number of infections targeted at Internet Explorer. It has other qualities too, like the vast number of add-ons, and when it’s up and running it’s respectably quick, but the one on-going gripe is slow loading from a cold start. Okay, so it’s only around 10 – 15 seconds, but it could be a lot quicker. Part of the problem is the Windows Prefetch, and it’s this feature that a Firefox add-on, called Start Faster, bypasses, to make the browser launch up to twice as fast. Be aware that it only works on Firefox 4.0 and above, and do read the release notes, especially if you are using XP as you may find it doesn’t work, and bear in mind that it’s a Beta release and may have some undocumented bugs.



Mail Memoriser

At one time or another most PC users have suffered a catastrophic hard drive failure and those of us who learned a lesson from the incident usually resolved to make regular backups of all irreplaceable files, documents, photos, downloads and so on. So far so good, but I know from experience that emails are often left out of the backup routine, so here’s a simple solution. It’s a freeware utility called MailStore. The name says it all really, and this simple to use program creates a central archive for all of your email messages, for any POP3 or IMAP service, popular clients such as Outlook Express, Windows Mail, MS Exchange, Outlook, Thunderbird and Seamonkey, and even webmail services like Gmail and Yahoo. It runs happily on all versions of Windows (XP onwards), takes just a few minutes to configure and does its stuff in the background, so you need never lose another message again.



Fair Shares With Dropbox

Many of us now have more than one PC, and maybe a smart phone as well, and increasingly we need to be able to access files and folders stored on one PC from another, or the mobile, especially if you are on your travels or out and about. There are ways and means within Windows but here’s a simple, free one-stop solution for Windows, Mac and Linux PCs as well as iPhones, iPads, Android and Blackberry smart phones. It’s called Dropbox and it creates a special folder on you PC or mobile into which you put all of the files you want to be able to access from another device. When you make changes to the saved files or add new ones, the Dropbox folders on your other PCs are automatically updated and as an added bonus there’s a facility to store your Dropbox files on the web, as an emergency backup. There’s 2Gb of free space available, if you want more a further 50Gb will set you back $9.99 a month. Once installed all you have to do is drag and drop the folders you want to synchronise into the Dropbox folder and it does the rest and your files are available on any network or internet connected PC or device with Dropbox installed.



Browse your Bits

Google continues to map, photograph and scan every aspect of our planet and beyond, so it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that it has now turned it attention to the human body. Body Browser, hot from Google Labs, promises to organise your organs in much the same way as Google Earth lets you whizz around cities and streets. Just zero in on the parts you want to get up close and personal with and zoom in for an increasingly detailed view, and having played with it, I’m guessing which parts are going to get the closest scrutiny. Your browser needs WebGL support so don’t be surprised if not much happens if you visit using IE and Firefox, if so you will be prompted to download Google Chrome (very cunning) and all will be revealed, in more ways that you can imagine…



Boost Your Browsing

If you are a casual web browser you may not realise just how much is going on behind the scenes when you type in a www… web address. We sites are actually allocated IP addresses, which as you know are represented by four groups of digits. So in order for you to call up a web page the www…. name that you enter in address box has to be translated into an IP address, and that’s the job of a special web service called the Domain Name System or DNS Server. Not all DNS Servers are the same, and there is a fair chance that you are not using the best one for your location or Internet service, which is where a free utility called Namebench comes in. This will search out the best DNS Server for you, and if it finds a better one this could mean a significant increase in browsing speeds. If so, don’t forget to read the FAQ which will tell you how to switch DNS servers, though bear in mind this is not for novices as it usually involves tinkering with your router’s settings.



Easier Email Setup?

One of the most tedious things about setting up a new PC is having to configure your email program. If, like me, you have multiple email accounts, it become a real chore. Hopefully it will get easier, providing you are using Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail or Windows Live Mail, in which case all you need is a nifty little freeware utility called Code Two Outlook AutoConfig. Basically all you have to do is run the program, enter your email address then open your email program and the account should be set up. The program works by consulting an Internet database that stores the settings for a wide range of domains, which it applies automatically to your email program. It’s a work in progress and there’s still quite a few domains it doesn’t know about but if yours is one it can’t process then you contact CodeTwo who will add it to the database and you should be able to configure your email client without having to reinstall the program.



Short Sharp Google

There are maybe half a dozen URL shorteners, Tiny URL is perhaps the best known and we mustn’t forget but there’s a new kid on the block. It’s none other than our old friend Google, who clearly don’t like to leave any pies without their fingers in them. Just in case this corner of the web has passed you by, URL shorteners are web sites that take a long web address – you know the sort of thing, they take ages to type in and you usually end up making at least one mistake – anyway, the Google shortener at whittles them down to just a few characters, making them a lot more manageable. And who better to do such trickery, since the chances are you found or looked up the website on Google? It is superfast and so far, the results seem to be a character or two shorter than their rivals, though that may well change as the size of the operation expands.



IE9 Good To Go

I though I would leave it a week or so before suggesting anyone downloads the new Beta release of Internet Explorer 9. I’ve been trialling it for a few weeks with no problems but there’s nothing like waiting for several hundred thousand, probably by now several millions of guinea pigs to give it a thorough road test to uncover any glitches. The good news is the Beta seems to be reasonably stable and trouble-free. It’s well worth a look, though the first thing to say is that it won’t run on XP, just Windows 7, though I suspect it can be persuaded to run under Vista as well. Many of the shiny new features are under the bonnet and concerned with future developments but there’s plenty to see, or rather not to see on the browser window. To begin with the address and search boxes have been combined, and it’s a lot cleaner with a major cull of menus and toolbars, leaving more space for web pages. But rather than me wittering on, try it for yourself, and don’t forget to click on the Test Drive link, which lets you see what all the new features can do with demo games and videos.



Toolbar Terrors

If you don’t keep a very close eye on your browser it can very quickly become swamped with Toolbars. They’re the mostly pointless add-ons that get tacked onto your browser by programs and utilities if you don’t pay attention during installation. Pretty well all of them make use of your internet connection for their own purposes, some of them can be real swines to get rid of and a few of them could be compromising your privacy and security. You don’t have to put up with them, here’s a neat little freeware program that really doesn’t need any explanation. It’s called Toolbar Uninstaller, it knows about hundreds of Toolbars, and how to get rid of them, permanently, and that’s all you need to know to get your browser back again.



Email Chinaware

Whilst many of us are happy to experiment with alternative browsers relatively few PC users stray far from the fold when it comes to email clients. You wouldn’t believe the number of please for help I get, asking how to install Outlook Express on Vista and Windows 7 (you can’t…). A few hardy souls dabble with Eudora, Thunderbird and Incredimail but the vast majority stick with the tried and tested Microsoft offerings of Windows Mail (okay) and Windows Live Mail (ugh!). Anyway, if you feel like trying something different, with a bit of an edge, how about this? It’s called Dream Mail, it’s free and it comes from China, which is certainly unusual, but maybe not for much longer if this is anything to go by. So what makes this one different? Well, much of what you see will be familiar so making the transition won’t be difficult. It supports multiple accounts and users, there are templates and signatures to play around with, there’s a built-in anti-spam filter with black and white list filtering and it supports all of the common messaging protocols (POP3, SMTP, ESMPT & webmail). The interesting extra is a remote mailbox facility that lets you access your inbox from anywhere, and there are plenty other useful facilities and ‘skins’ to play around with. If you are wary of commitment just run it alongside your existing client software and see if you like it.



Tone Down Your Emails

How many times have you sent an angry email, and then instantly regretted it? More than once, I’ll bet and if you’re a tetchy sort of person, probably lots of times. No doubt you wish there was such a thing as a ‘Retrieve’ button. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do once you press the Send button. There are a couple of email services that delay sending your messages by several hours or overnight, in case you have second thoughts, but that rather defeats the object. But here’s a different approach. It’s called ToneCheck, and the idea is it reads through your email, like a spellchecker, looking for inflammatory, emotional or potentially litigious words and phrases, and flags them up, so you can tone it down, before the message is sent. Sounds too good to be true? Well, there’s a couple of catches. It is free but it’s a beta release, with all that entails but the really bad news is that at the moment it only runs under MS Outlook. The developers are working on versions for Outlook Express, Thunderbird, AppleMail and gmail and you can sign up to be notified when they’re available, but if you’re an irritable Outlook user right now, why not give it a road test?



Go Faster Firefox

Firefox has been our browser of choice since it first appeared, and very good it is too, especially when it comes to security, it’s also pretty fast when first installed but it does have one big failing, and that’s a gradual slow down in boot up and page load over time It’s all down to your user profile databases becoming fragmented, it happens and there’s usually not a lot you can do about, or is there? If your copy of Firefox has become sluggish try this little utility, called SpeedyFox. Click the Speed Up My Firefox button and in less than two shakes it gives all of your profile folders a thorough shake up and spring clean. Startup can be up to three times faster, your browsing History will appear in the blink of an eye, and behind the scenes web pages that rely on cookies should load lickety-split.



Browse Your Bandwidth

I know what you are thinking, this is not the first bandwidth meter we’ve featured, and you would be right, but this one is a bit special. It’s called Bitmeter OS (the OS stands for Open Source by the way and Mac and Linux versions are also available). What makes this one interesting is the fact that it uses a web browser interface to display a whole range of information about what your PC is up to on the web, that and the amount of information it displays. It has all the basics, like real time upload and download data throughput, in the form of a easy to understand graph, plus it logs everything, so you can find out exactly how much data you’ve downloaded on a particular day or over a set period, and there’s a detailed History section that tracks your data usage over a day, a week or a month. If you are on any sort of capped broadband service, or just what to know how much data you’ve been digesting it’s well worth trying. I should point out that it’s a late beta so it’s possible there’s an odd bug or two still waiting to be uncovered. It has been running for a week now without incident but as usual with beta software you try it entirely at your own risk.



World’s First Triple Browser

You have to ask if the world really needs another web browser? We’re knee-deep in the things right now and they all have their plusses and minuses. For most purposes they are all pretty much of a muchness, but it’s interesting to see how far the web development community will go to catch our attention.


Lunarscape 6 certainly tinkled our bells with talk of triple-engines. In a nutshell that means that under the bonnet there are three separate browsers, based on Trident (Internet Explorer), Gecko (Firefox) and Webkit (Chrome & Safari). The theory goes that there are now so many different web standards and page tweaks that no one browser can handle them all. Not so a triple-engine browser, which supports all the latest add-ons, so one size fits all. It’s quick too and there’s a slick minimalist interface. The big question of course is should you switch? Well, since it won’t cost you a bean, and it doesn’t affect your existing browser(s) there’s no harm in giving it a try and who knows, if you regularly have problems viewing some web pages it could be just what you’ve been waiting for.



Shining a Lite on Net Traffic

It’s called Simple Internet Meter Lite and really that’s all you need to know. Okay, so you might want a few more details; you’ve probably already worked out that this is a Internet Meter that monitors what’s going in and out of your computer’s network ports bit it’s a good deal more sophisticated than most of the other ones we’ve looked at over the years. It’s highly configurable and you can decide what to show in terms of displays. These include a real-time graph showing send and receive speed, traffic flowing from the Internet, traffic on the critical Port 80, there’s stats a-plenty for those of you on capped services and a host of tools and other useful tid-bits, like an info box that tells you how many programs are running and how many open ports you have. All good stuff, of equal interest to casual users and experts alike.



Spam Zapper

What I just can’t understand is who the hell is buying all the Viagra, Rolex watches and Russian brides? I know the theory; if you send out a few gazillion Spam emails you are bound to catch a few mugs, but surely by now just about everyone on the planet knows they’re all scams and not to touch this toxic stuff with a barge-pole? Oh well, I guess we’re all having to pay the price for the few remaining idiots and until the spammers finally shut up shop a spam filter is still needed. Personally I’m happy with good old MailWasher and the features in Windows Mail but this one, called Spamihilator, also does a pretty good job, once it has learnt the difference between genuine messages and the crap. It learns fast, though, thanks to its Bayesian Filter and Word Filter so it’s doing its stuff pretty well from the get-go. It works with most email clients, intercepting the rubbish before it gets anywhere near our inbox and best of all, it won’t cost you a bean!


Network Winker Warning

I really like simple little applications that can make your PC do unexpected and preferably useful things. Network Lights definitely ticks my boxes. It’s a small stand-alone utility that puts those near-redundant LEDs on your keyboard to some good use. When the program is up and running the Scroll Lock and Numlock lights blink as packets of data pass in and out of your machine. It might even help to protect your computer if, for example you notice a sudden increase on outgoing traffic, when no application you are aware of should be sending data. It’s easily customisable from a System Tray icon and you can decide which keyboard lights it uses, the duration of the blinks and whether or not it runs at startup.



Latest Firefox Now Ready for Download

Firefox fans are all aTwitter over the beta release if Firefox 3.1. This is a Release Candidate version, so it’s pretty well the finished product -- due to be released in a few weeks -- but Mozilla are still keen to hear about any problems from early adopters, and it goes without say that being a Beta release there may still be a bug or two, so you try it entirely at your own risk. New feature that you may be interested in include new themes or ‘Personas’, there’s no need to restart the browser when you install add-ons, all round performance and file-uploading should also be faster



YTD Simplifies the Tube

The name says it all, YTD or You Tube Downloader does just that, simply copy and paste the URL of a video you want to record on your PC in the box provided, click the Download button and away it goes. Okay, so there are plenty of other You Tube downloaders out there but apart from being free and really easy to use, this one has a couple of extra features. It’s the only one I’ve come across that extracts the video filename, direct from the YouTube website, you can download multiple videos, and the program is Java based and platform independent, which means it will run under Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Solaris and Free BSD, oh yes, and did I mention that it is really easy to use? It’s worth trying just for that, and if you’ve used some other downloaders you’ll know exactly what I mean…



Evil Cookie Remover

Cookies, those small text files left behind by websites, are mostly benign but there are plenty of the other sort, that track where you’ve been and could compromise your privacy. Of course most browsers allow you to clear your cookies, or stop them from downloading, but here’s a simple one-click utility that just gets rid of the evil ones. It’s called Cookienator and at your command it instantly zaps anything it doesn’t like the look of. And not just in Internet Explorer, it also keeps a close eye on what’s being stored in Firefox, Chrome and Safari browsers, as well as anything suspicious hiding in Flash add-ons.



Easy Audio and Video Stream Recorder

As you know it’s easy to watch and listen to streamed video and audio on your PC, videos and sound files are all over the place, but occasionally you want to see a video or listen to a track again, or keep a copy of it, at which point it gets a bit complicated. Recording streamed video and audio usually involves faffing around with flaky and sometimes difficult to use software, or mucking around with URLs and websites, and at the end of it you’ll probably still end up with a file in an obscure format that your media player can’t handle. So here’s a one-stop solution, it’s a freeware utility called Tubemaster++. Once it’s installed on your computer it automatically records any streamed video or audio and afterwards you have the opportunity to save the captured videos in the file format of your choice (AVI, MPEG, MP3, MP4, IPod, PSP and more).



Wi-Fi Spy

Here’s a handy little utility for laptop owners. It’s called Wireless NetViewand its sole purpose in life is to show you all of the wireless networks in your immediate vicinity. But wait, I hear you cry, my PC can already do that, using the built-in Windows utility or the one installed by the wireless adaptor. All true, but this one goes a whole lot further, drilling deep into the connection or access points properties, tell you all sorts of useful things about its real time and average signal strength, signal quality, authentication algorithm, security status, channel number and frequency, MAC address and much, much more. Okay, so maybe most of this information is only of interest to geeks and hackers, but it’ll give you something to do the next time you’re stuck at the airport, surfing for a free connection.



Safari 4 World’s Fastest?

You certainly can’t accuse Apple of hiding its light under a bushel, at least not when it comes to browsers. Apple is boldly claiming that the latest version of its Safari browser (version 4) is the world’s fastest. Safari 4 has just completed a successful beta trial and is now ready for download, for both Mac and Windows users. You’ll have to make up your own mind about the speed, the various test reports I’ve seen are inconclusive, but there’s no getting away from it, it is quick and most pages do seem to appear a fair bit faster than IE and it’ll certainly give Firefox a run for its money. There’s a few new and interesting features, like Top Sites which shows thumbnails of your bookmarked favourites, Cover Flow is borrowed from the browsing feature in iTunes and lets you flip through your history or bookmarks and there’s an improved Search facility that lets you go back and find sites stored deep in the browser’s History logs. You can install and use as many browsers as you like on your PC so give a try and see what you think?



Email Time Machine

How many times have you clicked the Send button on your email program and later regretted it? We’ve all been there; it’s late at night, you’re just back from the pub, you want to get something off your chest so you write an angry message. Come the morning, it doesn’t seem like such a good idea and you wish there was some way to get it back…


A few months ago the media was abuzz with a paid-for email service called l8r, which lets you do just that, but now there’s a way to defer sending emails from your PC using our old friend Mozilla Thunderbird. It’s a free extension called Send Later or SL8TR and it lets you delay sending a message for a few minutes, a few hours, or send automatically at a specified time. I would download it now, before it’s too late…



Catcher on the Fly

Have you ever wanted to take a screenshot of a web page, only to find that it is too long and the bits you want are way down the page? Of course you have, we’ve all been there. Web page designers suffer too, and there’s plenty of occasions when it’s helpful to be able to see a web page in its entirety. You guessed it, someone has figured out a solution and that someone is PcWinTech, who have come up with a really neat little utility called Simple Web Page Catcher. The program is quite small, just 2.5Mb, so it should only take a few moments to download on a fast broadband comnmection.


The program takes a snapshot of any web page, no matter how long it is, and saves it anywhere on your computer as a .bmp, .jpeg, .tif, .gif or .png file. As an added bonus it can be saved with or without a watermark of your choosing (.bmp file). It is also incredibly easy to use. Simply copy and past the URL of the web page you want to capture into the Address box and click the Screenshot button. The program then scrolls down the page, capturing the image as it goes. The resultant file can then be viewed in the picture editing program of your choice, either as a whole, or zoom in and scroll down the page



Supercharge Firefox

If you are a Firefox user (and if not, why not…?) then here’s possibly one of the most useful add-ons ever  -- well, for web users like me at any rate. It’s called UrlBarExt and it’s available in Windows, Mac and Linux versions. Here’s what it can do. A set of discrete icons appears at the end of the address box and from left to right they copy the current address or URL to the clipboard, shorten the displayed web address to a Tiny URL (or the web shortening service of your choice, Bit.Ly, etc). It will search the currently displayed site using a keyword (right-click on the icon to open a search box), go up one level to the website’s root or home page, tag or bookmark the current page from a menu of popular tags, navigate through sequential pages (really handy when web pages are numbered, like those in my Boot Camp archives), and surf anonymously, using a proxy server. It’s highly configurable and like all the best things in life, completely free, so give it a spin, it’s really impressive once you get used to it.



Chrome Losing its Shine?

Google Chrome received an astonishingly good press, so it was inevitable that sooner or later something would upset the applecart. It has, and it comes courtesy of the German Office for Information Security, which has reportedly expressed concerns over the browser’s security features, and is warning against using it, at least until a final post-beta version has been released. Digging a little deeper reveals that the spokesperson’s comments have been widely hyped and misquoted, and Google staunchly defends Chrome’s safety. Nevertheless, there remains some questions marks over how much data it extracts from your surfing activities, and what, exactly it sends back to the mothership. It is also true that it assigns a unique ID to each installation, which seems a bit odd unless Google is going to track what you are up to. For those that like Chrome, and are concerned about privacy, have a look at UnChrome. It’s a freeware utility that zeros out the ID feature in Chrome, making it complete anonymous; what’s more, it doesn’t affect the way Chrome works and you only have to run it once.



Wi-Fi On Radar

Here’s a wireless utility with a difference. The Xirrus Wi-Fi Monitor generates a radar-like display to show all of the wireless networks in range of your laptop. By translating relative signal strength into range it shows, in a rather eye-catching way, which ones are likely to give you the best connection. For obvious reasons – unless you have a rotating and highly directional Wi-Fi antenna on your PC -- the display cannot tell you which direction the access point actually is, but it looks great. Versions of Wi-Fi monitor are available for Windows Mac and Linux, and the only catch is the XP version requires that you install Yahoo Widget Framework, which adds another 15Mb to the download, (the Vista version installs as a sidebar Gadget)



A Bit of Alright

Over the years we’ve looked at several Internet bandwidth monitors and very useful they are too, especially if you need to keep tabs on your web usage. However, most of them are pretty dull, just boxes full of numbers, which are all very interesting, but not the sort of thing you’d want to look at all day. Well, here’s something with a bit more visual appeal. It’s called Bitmeter II and it displays what’s coming in and going out of your PC, in real time, via a series of colourful graphs. You can display the numbers as well, if that’s what you want. It has a number of other tricks too, there’s a web interface, so you can monitor Internet usage remotely, there are alarms to let you know when you have reached your limits, there’s an on-screen stopwatch, calculator and various display options. Even if you don’t have to keep an eye on your bandwidth, watching Bitmeter when you’re downloading large files is a good way of whiling away the time…



Chrome Looks Shiny

Google's entry into the web browser market should liven things up; it will certainly give Microsoft and Mozilla something to think about. If you haven't already tried it then I suggest that you give Google Chrome the once over.. It's early days yet, and this is the Beta version so take the usual precautions of setting a new Restore Point, but so far it looks quite promising. My favourite feature so far is the integrated address window/search box, naturally it defaults to Google but you can change it to Yahoo, MSN, Ask or the search engine of your choice on the Options menu.  It imports all of your bookmarks and quick links so installation is smooth and quick, though I'm not so happy at the way it also seems to know all of my passwords, I would have preferred it to ask before importing those. Other plus points include having the tabs on the outside of the page and the display is clean and uncluttered. Security should be good, for the moment at least and I really like the thumbnail display of recently visited pages when you open a new tab, but don't take my word for it, try it for yourself, and watch out Firefox, there's an eager new kid on the block...



Who is on Your Network?

As soon as you set up a computer network you are opening up a great big can of worms. Cabled networks are pretty secure but wi-fi can create problems. Providing you take sensible precautions and enable encryption you should be okay. Nevertheless, you still might like to keep an eye on who is using it and connecting to the Internet – especially if you have kids in the house – in which case this little utility, called LookatLan puts you back in control. It generates a lot of infomration, most of which probably won’t be of much interest to you, but the main window tells you what you need to know, about who is connected to your network, and what they are up to.



Smarter Surfing

There are few things more depressing than searching for something on one of the major Search Engines only to get back tens of thousands or even millions of hits. You know the answer is in there somewhere, but where? Refining your search terms can help, but here’s something else to try. Install SurfCanyon on your Firefox browser and the next time you search for something, click the little SurfCanyon bull’s-eye icon next to the top hit and check out its recommendations. Obviously it can’t work miracles but after trying it for a couple of weeks I have to say it’s quite impressive and more often than not its suggested results get you to where you want to go a lot quicker then trudging through pages of hits.



New Tweaks for Firefox 3

Apart from one or two minor hiccups the Firefox 3 rollout seems to have gone quite smoothly and the general consensus is so far so good. However, there’s always room for improvement and already several of the top tweakers have set about hacking into Firefox 3’s configuration menu, to pep it up, and modify or disable some of the more annoying features.


To open the Config menu go to the address bar and type about:Config.. Read and understand the warning message and click ‘I’ll be careful...’ 


To change a True/False value simply right click on it and select Toggle, for numerical values click Modify. Altered setting appear in bold type, so you can easily go back and reset them if something goes wrong. Here a few tried and tested performance mods to get you started:


gfx.color_management.enabled – change to True

network.http.pipelining – change to True

network.http.pipelining.maxrequests -- change 4 to 8.

network.http.proxy.pipelining – change to True


If you really want to get down and dirty with Firefox setting than take a look at the long, long list of tweaks on the blogsdna website.



Simple Email Backup

Over the years I must have written tens of thousands of words on how to copy, transfer and backup email messages. With Outlook Express backing up the Message Store folder is not too difficult but it’s all the other bits and pieces – account settings, signatures, rules, blocked senders and so on – that make life difficult because they’re all over the place. Now it looks as though I won’t have to go through the rigmarole again.


Presenting Amic Email Backup. It’s a small freeware application that backs up all of the vital files and info in most popular email clients, including OE, Outlook, Eudora, Pegasus, Incredimail, The Bat, Poco, Netscape, to name just a few. It’s really easy to use, you can just select your email program from the list and let it get on with it, or use the Wizard Mode to create scheduled backups. Restoration is just as simple, just select the backup file and all of your email messages and settings will be put back where they belong, or you can use it to transfer everything to a new PC, so now there’s no excuse anymore for not backing up your messages and settings.



Songbird Sings

Is it a media player, is it a web browser? Well yes, Songbird is all those things, and much more, but the best way to find out what it is and what it can do is give it a try. Songbird is currently in the later stages of its beta trials, so don’t forget to backup important data and set a system restore point before you install, but that said it seems very stable as it should be since at its heart there’s large slices of Firefox, and the people who developed it, were also responsible for the classic WinAmp player.


Songbird provides you with access to the media files on your PC, it integrates seamlessly with popular download services and there’s plenty of add-onto to help you manage your iPod and iTunes libraries. You want lyrics or album art? Songbird will track them down, it could be the only combination multimedia player-browser you’ll ever need…



Ticker Tape News for Firefox

I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to the news but I have the radio on throughout the day whilst I’m working and always try to catch the hourly bulletins, but for those of you who need a constant fix of the goings on around the world here’s a great Firefox add-on. It’s called RSS Ticker and the idea is the latest news headlines scroll across the bottom of your browser window, and if something catches your eye, click on it for a summary, or double click to see the whole item.


It works with any website providing RSS feeds but it’s obviously more interesting  with constantly updated news sites, and BBC News is a very good example. It’s easy to install, just download the add-on, restart Firefox, pop along to your favourite news site, click the orange RSS icon, click Yes when it asks to create a bookmark, restart Firefox and away it goes.



Free Up Firefox

If like me you are a Firefox fan you might be interested in trying a ‘Theme’ called miniFox. The idea is it shrinks everything it can, including the Tool, Title bar and menus, as small as they will go, and still remain useable, freeing up more space for web pages. It’s quick and easy to install, and of course, like all of the best things in life, it is absolutely free, and if you don’t like it, just go to Tools > Add Ons and select the Themes tab.



Internet Investigator

Who or what is your computer talking to right now? You may think that just because your web browser or email program is not running your PC is offline. Think again. If you have a broadband connection then the chances are it is constantly chattering away, sending and receiving data. Most of it is innocuous and your Firewall and security programs should block the really bad stuff but there’s a lot of other, sometimes mysterious communications going on in the background, which could be slowing your connection down, or maybe aeven malware sending your personal details to heaven knows where.


Here’s a way to find out what’s going on. Go to Run on the Start menu and type cmd then press OK and this will open a DOS like Command window.


At the flashing cursor type the following: netstat -b 5 > netlog.txt. then press Enter. Give it a couple of minutes then press Ctrl + C to stop logging, then type netlog.txt and a text file will open in Notepad. Check the log and if you see anything suspicious Google the name or enter the IP address in the browser address line.



Simple Firefox Speed Tweak

Over the years I have tried a number of tweaks to speed up the Firefox browser, some of them work quite well, but this has to be the best one yet, and it is really easy. All you have to do is open Firefox’s hidden configuration menu, to do that go to the address bar and type about:config and the settings list opens. Scroll down until you come to Network prefetch-next, and if the entry in the Value column reads ‘True’ right-click on it and select Toggle (or double click) and it will change to false. It’s that easy! You should now see a noticeable increase in speed when you open pages.  



Tasty Way to Search

PC hardware and software companies make no secret of the fact that at or close to the top of their wish lists is a computer that in true Star Trek tradition, doesn’t need a keyboard or mouse and responds to voice commands, Over the years many, many attempts have been made to do just that and nowadays some fancy voice recognition systems can be trained to do a fairly reasonable job.


The day when you can just say what you want into Google or your favourite search engine may not be too far off, and you can give it a try right now, with a free voice recognition application called Tazti (you are supposed to pronounce it ‘tasty’). It’s now undergoing beta testing and you can download and try it right now. It works with most popular web applications, including Google, Yahoo!, MSN, Wikipedia, ASK, About, You Tube, Flicker, MySpace, Amazon, AOL Video and ebay, as well letting you control many of your PC’s basic commands, and it actually seems to work quite well, if you are patient with it, but don’t throw away your keyboard and mouse just yet…



New Netscape Navigator 9

Remember Netscape Navigator? For a while in the mid 1990s it looked like it would become the standard browser, until Microsoft started bundling Internet Explorer with Windows 95. This resulted in a bitter anti-trust lawsuit, which ruled in Netscape’s favour but it was too late and Netscape never recovered. The browser’s core code was released as Open Source software, which resulted in Mozilla Firefox, and the rest is history. But Netscape is back, Navigator Version 9 has been extensively revamped with lots of new features that will appeal to members of, like a Friend’s Activity Bar, Voting toolbar and Sitemail Notifier but there’s other goodies, like tabbed browser windows, a URL checker (corrects misspelt web addresses) News viewer and Link Pad, which lets you save web addresses, without cluttering your Favourites list. It’s free, fast, immune to IE nasties and you can install and use it alongside IE and Firefox, so if you’re an old Netscape fan, or just want to try something new why not give it a road test?



IE Add-On Adds Functionality

Fans of Internet Explorer, and yes there are still a few of you still using it, may be interested in this little freeware add-on called Bayden IEToys. It’s a suite of tools, accessible from the right-click context menu to make IE more functional. For example let’s say you are trying to read a web page that’s cluttered with images. Simply right-click on the page, click Delete Images, and they’re gone. Another click deletes IE’s History cache, there’s a useful ‘Image Collection’ utility that copies any selected picture to the clipboard, it has a built-in highlighter for text – it also works on printouts, if you see a word or term you are not familiar with highlight it and click Dictionary or Encyclopedia, you can search Google and MSN with a single click, and the list goes on. The download is tiny, just 123kb, and takes only a few seconds to download, so there’s no excuse not to give it a try. 



Faster Smarter Glossary Search

When you want to know the meaning of a word or term what do you do? Most of us reach for Google, or our favourite search engine and chances are you’ll find what you are looking for with a link to Wikipedia or some other on-line reference source. You’ll also get a lot of dross, which you may have to sift through, so why not give this new web service a try? It’s called MetaGlossary, and all it does is look up definitions and meanings of words and phrases, extracting just the important details from a wide range of authoritative sources, and it really works. There’s no fluff or frills, it gets straight to the point and the chances are you’ll find exactly what you are looking for at the top of the first page, without having to click any further.



Free Bandwidth Monitor Looks Ahead

Many broadband users are constrained by usage limits and caps that they exceed at their peril. The penalties, and costs can be fearsome, so it pays to keep an eye on how many bytes are flowing in and out of your PC. NetMeter can do that for you, it’s a sophisticated bandwidth monitor but with some very useful extras. In addition to real-time, daily, weekly and monthly logs it also takes an educated guess at your future traffic levels, handy if you’re getting close to your limits. Needless to say it’s free, and very easy to set up and use



Thunderbird 2 is Go

Most of us use Outlook Express for sending and receiving emails, and most of the time it does the job, but there are alternatives.


One such is Mozilla Thuinderbird, the companion to Mozilla Firefox, arguably the best browser there is, and like Firefox, Thunderbird is free, gratis and for nothing. The big news is that Thunderbird 2, the newest version, has just been launched, and first impressions are that it is even better than its predecessor.


OE users will find it an easy switch, it copies messages accounts and address book data in a trice and the layout and visuals have a very familiar ring to them. But there’s lots of extra features, like the facility to ‘tag’ emails with ‘To Do, ‘Done’ or custom labels. It has browser like forward and back navigation. Improved predictive search makes it easier to find things, and search results are saved so it’s even easier the next time you want something, it has webmail integration, uprated anti-phishing features, better security, a junk mail filter and there are hundreds of add-ons and extensions to improve functionality, so why not give it a try?



POP Mail Preview

Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of MailWasher, which does a bang-up job of filtering the hundreds of Spam messages I receive every day, but here’s a lightweight alternative, called POP3 Preview, a simple little freeware application that lets you examine the contents of you mailbox, and delete the rubbish, before you download anything onto your PC. It’s incredibly easy to configure and use, just create an account – you’ll need your username, password and POP3 Server address, and it’s good to go. Click the Receive button and all of your emails awaiting download are displayed, along with the message body and header, so you can decide which ones to zap. You can also block the sender to stop them sending you any more.



Best Firefox Add-On Ever!

If you like Firefox then you are just going to wet yourself with pleasure with this new Add-On. It’s called Tab Effect but that tells you nothing. In fact what it does is animate open tabs, so when you click to change to another tabbed window the display turns into a 3D cube that rotates to show you the selected tab. It’s brilliant and a major time-waster, if like me, you end up constantly switching tabs just to watch it doing its stuff. The download is tiny, just 38kb, simply click on the Install Now button and it does the rest, you will have to restart Firefox to get it working. If for any reason you don’t like it, or you experience problems simply go to Add-Ons on the Tools menu and click the Uninstall button. Try it now, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!



Email & Web Image Resizer

Anyone who has ever received an email from a friend or relative with several megabytes of picture attachments will know that newcomers to the wonderful world of computing and digital photography are often unaware that they need to re-size images before they are sent by email or uploaded to websites. Windows has a picture resizer built into the My Pictures folder options but here’s an even better way, a small freeware program called PIXresizer. The key features are that works with both single and multiple files, it converts between most popular image file formats (.bmp, .gif, .jpg, .png, and .tif), it creates thumbnails and there are multiple resizing methods, to make sure you get the best looking results.



Flocking To A New Browser

If you like Firefox and you are into blogging and social networking then you should definitely check out a new web browser called Flock. It is based on Mozilla Firefox, so there are no nasty surprises and you should be able to use it straight out of the box, but the useful extras are some useful blogging features. These include a built-in editor, photo toolbar, drag and drop pictures and text and so on, and it works with most blog services, including TypePad, WordPress, Moveable Type, Blogger etc, and sites like MySpace, ebay, Flickr and Photobucket



Die Another Day…

This probably sounds a bit mawkish but now might be a good time to think about when you are going to die…


If you still need any prompting to give up fags and alcohol, or loose a bit of weight then just tap your details into The Death Clock and see how long you’ve got to go. Of course the result you get is only an estimate but the principles behind the clock are sound and if your lifestyle is on the risky side then this might just be the nudge you need to stick to those resolutions. I’m definitely going to make the most of my remaining 700 million seconds…


Free Office Suite In Your Browser

As all freebie fans know there’s a perfectly good suite of office applications, called Open Office that’s all yours, free, gratis for the cost of a download. And very good it is too, but here’s something new, a complete office suite that you don’t have to download because it works inside your web browser (Firefox 1.5 or above, to be precise). It’s called ajax 13 and all you have to do is go to the home page and click on the application you want to use. At the moment there’s a choice between ajaxWrite (Word compatible word processor), ajaxSketch (well specified image editor), ajaxXLS (Excel compatible spreadsheet) ajaxPresent (PowerPoint compatible AV presenter) and ajaxTunes (web-based media player).


All of these programs are surprisingly well featured, though obviously not as comprehensive as their Microsoft counterparts, but all of the basic elements and facilities are there, and any one of them could be a boon in an emergency or when using an unfamiliar PC with no office apps installed.



Nicknames for Bookmarks in Firefox

There’s a little known facility in the Firefox browser that lets you assign a keyword or ‘nickname’ to a bookmarked website. To save you looking up the bookmark on the drop-down menu all you have to do is type the nickname into the address box and up pops the page. It’s really easy to do, simply right-click on an entry on the bookmark list and select Properties then in the box that appears type your nickname into the Keyword box and click OK.


Internet Explorer has a similar facility (right-click Favorite and select Properties) but it relies on keyboard shortcuts, which are a lot harder to memorise, especially if you have a lot of them.



Wi-Fi Monitor With Audible Alert, Freeware

Here’s a handy little program for road warriors. It’s called WiFi SiStrfrom a Belgian outfit called Dnsoft -- try saying that with false teeth. Once installed it sits quietly on your wireless laptop’s desktop, monitoring all available wireless connections, displaying signal strength, logging your connection history and warning you with an audible alert when the signal falls below a pre-set threshold. It can also display stats for your best and worst connections, and system settings, so it’s quite handy for troubleshooting. It looks very pretty too and the display is highly customisable.



Activate Outlook Express Troubleshooter

Deep inside Outlook Express there’s a handy little utility that can be invaluable for tracking down faults, especially when it comes to OE not sending mail. To activate it go to Tools > Options and select the Maintenance tab. At the bottom, under Troubleshooting, you will see a row of boxes, check the first one, marked ‘Mail’. Now when you send an email (or fail to do so) OE creates a text log file that should show how and when the problem occurred. The file, in plain text format, is stored in the OE Message folder, which on most XP PCs should be in C:\Documents and Settings\<yourname>\Application Data\Identities\{GUID}\Microsoft\Outlook Express (where GUID or Global Unique Identifier is a long string of alphanumeric characters). Simply double click on ‘smpt.log’ and hopefully you will be well on your way to diagnosing the fault.



Find it Fast and For Free

As time goes by and your hard drive fills up it becomes increasingly difficult to find things on a PC and whilst Windows and most applications have their own Search facilities, they’re not necessarily very convenient, or easy to use, which brings us to the X1 Enterprise Client.


This is a powerful freeware desktop Search Engine that automatically indexes the files on your PC, including email messages, documents, zips, JPEGs, MP3s, PDFs and most common file formats. You can find whatever you are looking for quickly and easily using a simple keyword search, and the results are clearly shown in a preview panel. It’s flexible, highly configurable and it wont sap your computer’s resources as it can be set to carry out regular indexing operations whenever your PC is not being used.



Hotspotting At Airports

Wireless Hotspots have been a feature at most major airports for some time but most of them charge a subscription or fee to use them. Now that we’re all spending much longer hanging around at airports here’s a few tips to make your wait a little more bearable. First get yourself a wi-fi ‘sniffer’. These little keyring-sized gadgets cost around a tenner and they are a lot more convenient for hunting down a signal, than wandering around with your laptop. Seek out the executive and club lounges, these often have free wi-fi access for their patrons, but the signal sometimes spills out. Finally, run you PC on airport power. Mains sockets in departure lounges and at the gate are worth seeking out, especially if they’re in range of a wi-fi access point. Wireless operation will suck your battery dry in around half the time it normally takes. If you’re flying long-haul check with your airline before you go if they have power sockets in the seats, and which sort they are, so you have the right adaptor ready, or buy one of those universal travel kits.



Freeware Video & TV Streamer

Remember the Slingbox? It was the Summer’s hot gadget and it allowed you to stream live TV, video and music from your PC to any other PC with a net connection. Here’s a way of doing all that for free, with a program called Orb. Simply install Orb on your PC; set up the password protected login and you’re away. When you are away from home or the office all you have to do is open a browser on a PC, laptop or mobile device, logon to your Orb account and you can stream media direct from your PC to wherever you are. If your home PC has a tuner you can watch live TV, or you can watch videos, listen to music or view images stored on your hard drive. So what’s the catch? Well, at the moment there doesn’t see to be one; you just need a moderately fast PC (2.5GHz or above with at least 512Mb RAM and plenty of free hard disc space) to use the TV steamer, and it will definitely knock a big hole in your allowance if you are on a capped broadband deal.



Private Browser Leaves No Traces

As you (hopefully) know browsing the Internet is not a private activity and it leaves a trail half a mile wide that almost anyone with a mind to can easily track back to your PC. Everything from Windows to your ISP and the websites you visit maintain records of your activities but there are ways to protect your privacy. One such possibility is a website called


It’s a free ‘proxy’ browser that lets you visit websites, without leaving any traces behind. If you want to take up the paid-for option you’ll be issued with a ‘virtual’ debit card that let’s you make on-line purchases, but we’re getting into uncharted waters now and I suggest you just stick with the freebie option until you know a bit more about it.



Where On Earth was it Taken?

How many times have you viewed a digital photograph on your PC and wondered where on earth it was taken? In the not too distant future, digital cameras with built-in GPS facilities will record latitude and longitude in the image’s hidden EXIF data file, which is currently used to store time, date and camera settings. However, you can get a flavour of things to come right now with a tiny little program called Panorado Flyer, which records location data on your images. After that all you have to do is right-click on the file and you’ll be transported by Google Earth to the exact location. To tag an image file with location data simply open Google Earth, find the location then right-click on the file and the data is automatically recorded.



Windows LiveWriter Blogging Tool Free Beta

If you’ve had anything to do with Blogs or Blogging then you’ll know there’s a multitude of sites and software applications, of varying sophistication, designed to help you organise your words and pictures and published them on the web, so when Microsoft get involved it’s times to sit up and pay attention. Windows LiveWriter is a fully featured desktop blogging application, it’s still in Beta form but it’s pretty well finished and available now as a free download.


LiveWriter (and get used to the word Live in MS apps and add-ons from now on) is meant for ruse on Windows Live Spaces blogging site but it’s compatible with other weblogs. including Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad. WordPress and so on. It supports all popular modes and protocols, configures itself to your Weblog software in just a few moments and is incredibly easy to use through its friendly wysiwyg (‘wizzywig’ or what you see is what you get) interface.



Picture this -- Websites as Graphs

If you are wondering what the strange spidery image on the right is, it’s PCTopTips, or at least that’s how it looks to Websites as Graphs. Simply type in the URL of a website and it converts it into a graphical representation, displaying all of the various elements as interlinked colour coded dots.


Blue dots represent links, Red is for tables, violet is for images, yellow for forms, black for the Root node and so on. The graph doesn’t appear instantly, it slowly and gracefully unfolds -- depending how large or complex the site is -- and if you like what you see you can take a screenshot and post it on the online picture site flickr.



New Free Internet Phone Rival For Skype

Skype pretty much rules the roost when it comes to Internet telephony or VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol and its free PC-to-PC service has millions of fans but there’s a new kid on the block called the Gizmo Project. The basic software is free, just like Skype, and it has all of the usual VOIP facilities, including free PC to PC calling, conference calls and so on but here’s the killer features. First it’s an open source program so it should be compatible with other VOIP systems but the big news is that outgoing calls to overseas landline and mobile phones are free. So what’s the catch? There isn’t one, except that the person you are calling must also be an ‘active’ Gizmo user (active means making a few calls per week). If you want to take incoming and make outgoing calls to non-Gizmo users there are a couple of paid-for call plans but even so the rates are still very low.





Remove Internet Explorer Branding

Over the years we’ve looked at several ways of removing the ‘branding’ from Internet Explorer, where an ISP’s name appears in the browser’s Titlebar and these have ncluded editing the Registry (definitely not for novices) to running visual basic scripts, however. The most painless one I’ve come across to date is a small utility called ISPunbrand. It’s basically a Registry fix but it has been safely packaged so you don’t have to do any tinkering, just download and run. It’s very small  (only 8kb) and you will find it here.


If you are feeling bold you can try one of the manual removal procedures we’ve recommended in the past. All you have to do is type the following in Run on the Start menu:

rundll32 iedkcs32.dll,Clear though to make sure there are no mistakes I suggest that you copy and paste it from the page.


The Universe on your PC

Back when I were a lad I was convinced that by the time I grew up (though to be fair that has yet to happen), I would zoom off to work each day in my rocket jet pack and take holidays on the Moon. Well owning a jet pack is just about theoretically possible, but the closest anyone is going to get to the Moon, let alone anywhere else in outer space is a sub-orbital ride on Virgin Galactic or sign up to become an astronaut. Maybe you can’t go into space for real but you can get a taster with an amazing freeware program called Celestia. Think of it as a sort of Google Earth in reverse, a real-time 3D space simulator with a database of more than 100,000 stares and almost100 objects in our own solar system, and you can add more bits of the universe as you go along. Zoom across galaxies or get up close and personal with the Hubble Telescope and the faster and more graphically blessed your PC is the better it looks!




Google Labs continues to come up with clever add-ons for the world’s favourite search engine and this time its Google Notebook. It’s a sort of built in smart clipboard for your browser that lets you add notes and clippings from websites as you browse. Being Google it has to be organised, and it’s stored online and available from any PC you happen to be using, once you’ve logged on with your username and password. It’s available for test now and it works with Internet Explorer (V6 and above) and Firefox (V1.5 and above).




If you want to see something scary take a look at the F-Secure World Map of Viruses. It’s just like a weather map but instead of fronts and anticyclones it shows waves of nasties like Netsky32 and Trojan Downloaders sweeping across globe, and heading for your PC. It shows in real-time the current threats, where they are coming from, and depressingly, where they are going to in an easy to understand colour-coded display. You can select hourly, daily monthly or yearly views and monitor the whole world, or just your part of it. There’s an Alert Level display -- graded from Quiet to Epidemic -- plus a regularly updated list of the day's top threats


Internet Time Machine

Here’s something to think about, where do old Internet pages go? Mostly they disappear forever, into the ether, never to be seen again but some of them are being saved for posterity in the Wayback Machine Internet Archive. More than 55 billion pages have been stored, the earliest of them dating back to 1966 (the Google page above dates from 1999) and all you have to do to browse the archive is tap in the web address, or use the search engine to locate pages by date or name match. The site also features collections of websites devoted to special events, like 911, the US Electron of 2000 and Hurricane Katrina and visitors with websites are encouraged to submit their own site archives.




Anyone who has set up a home or small office network will know how difficult it can be to manage and oversee what’s going on. This little freeware utility, called The Dude, does it all for you, displaying all of the connections to your local and wide area network in an easy to understand graphic map. It automatically scans all PC connected to the network -- handy if you suspect a hack attack -- you can monitor traffic flows and it can be set to alert you if there’s a problem. The program works on all versions of Windows, Linux and Mac and supports all common used protocols and standards.




The range of a Wi-Fi connection varies but in most cases you’re lucky to get more than 25 metres inside a building, less if there’s a lot of metal or thick walls between your laptop and the wireless router or access point. On some systems you can increase the range dramatically by plugging in a directional or high-gain antenna, these are widely available from around £30. Some Wi-Fi cards also have this facility, but if you are handy with a soldering iron and screwdriver you might like to have a crack at making your own high efficiency Wi-Fi antenna, which should cost you less than £5.00 to build. A while back a group of experimenters came up with a home build design called the ‘Cantenna’; the original was based on nothing more sophisticated than an empty Pringles tube, which just happens to have the right dimensions, and is lined with metallic foil, which reflects and concentrates the signal. The design has been extensively improved and refined, using a variety of food containers and one of the best DIY guides can be found on the Turnpoint site. Also have a look at this UK site, which has details of a USB Cantenna. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty then you can buy one ready made, though they cost a good deal more than an fiver….






I don’t know about you but just lately I’ve been getting loads of foreign spam, mostly Russian but there’s a few Chinese, Japanese and even what I suspect to be the odd Korean message. There’s a really easy way to stop them clogging up your mailbox using Outlook Express Message Rules. All you have to do is open one of these emails -- make sure you don’t open any attachments of click on any links -- and look for a foreign language character or symbol that appears several times in the email, but make sure it's not one you would expect to see in an English language email. When you find one highlight it, and press Ctrl + C to copy it to the Windows Clipboard. Now go to the OE Tools menu then Message Rules > Mail and click the New button. Tick the Conditions box that says ‘ Where the message body contains specific words’, now go to the Actions box and check ‘Delete it’. In Box 3 Descriptions click on the underlined ‘Contains specific words’, click into the ‘Type specific word or phrase…’ box and press Ctrl + V to paste the character from the Clipboard. Click the Add button, then OK to exit the dialogue boxes. You may find that you have to repeat the exercise a couple of times, to include more foreign characters but you should be able to stem the tide quite quickly.



That’s right, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is giving stuff away. No rocket jet packs or free rides on the shuttle I’m afraid, but if you head over to the Glenn Research Centre website you will find a great selection of free software. There’s something for everyone, especially budding aeronautical engineers and jet engine designers, but if you’ve ever fancied designing a kite or a model rocket then take a look at KiteModeler and RocketModeler, and RangeGames is a fun way to work out the fuel usage, acceleration and velocity of aircraft. But seriously the software should be of real interest to students, graduates and those involved in the study of making things fly and even if you’re not into the science stuff, there are plenty of other things to see and do around the site.






This one is for residents of the UK, the United States, Uganda and anyone else living in an alphabetically challenged country. I don’t know about you but I get really ticked-off by drop-down menus on website forms, where you have to enter your country. Sometimes you strike lucky and we’re listed as Great Britain and you only have to scroll down to G but more often than not we’re right down the bottom, under United Kingdom. I just figured out how to beat the system. Most of these forms are based on fairly standard HTML scripts so all you have to do is click the box and tap the ‘U’ key. You should then be transported to the directly to Uganda, which is normally just two or three down cursor clicks from United Kingdom. It may even be possible to get to the UK directly with a two-letter entry but so far no luck; if anyone manages to crack the code let me know.



What can’t Google do? Well did you know it can calculate and convert? Try this, open Google and enter ‘20 + 4 =’ press Enter and up pops the answer. Clever huh? But there’s much more to come. It recognises all of the standard numeric operators, i.e. ‘+’ plus, ‘-‘ minus, ‘*’ multiply and ‘/’ divide, and it also knows about percentages, exponentials, roots, trigonometric functions, logarithms and lots of other mysterious mathematical thingys.


Google can also convert units and values. Let’s say you want to know how many dollars you would get for £30, just ask, e.g. type in ’30 pounds in dollars’ then press Enter. The magic word is ‘in’, it’s so simple. It works for a whole low of other things as well, including mass, length, volume, area, time, power, electricity and so on. Go on, give it a try!



Here’s a useful free extension for Firefox that tells you straight away if the website you are about to visit is in any way unsafe or annoying (i.e. riddled with malware or pop-ups etc.). Siteadvisor continually tests new and existing websites, checking the content, so when you tap in the address the Siteadvisor ‘safety button’ changes colour according to the level of threat.  A green button means safe, yellow suggests caution and a red means stay away!





Windows 98 has an invaluable little utility called ‘winipcfg’. It's a godsend when trying to make new wireless and network connections (it's the Windows version of the DOS utilility ipconfig). It displays your current IP address, with the facility to manually ‘release’ and ‘renew’ sticky settings that can prevent a new connection from working. To fire it up go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘winipcfg’ (without the quotes).


Although Windows XP usually manages to sort itself out it can still get into trouble, but there’s no equivalent to Winipcfg in XP (although you can use ipconfig). There is however, a MS utility included in the Windows 2000 Resource Kit that does more or less the same thing, called Wntipcfg. The download and full instructions can be found on the Microsoft website.




Have you ever wondered who is on the other end of that chat room your kids are using or where that web site offering bargain basement widgets is actually based? There are ways and means to track down the location of websites but most of them are fairly laborious. On the other hand a freeware utility called NeoTrace Express presents you with clear map showing both your location, and that of the website you are checking. Simply tap in the web address and off it goes, tracing the path between you and the site and displaying who the site is registered to.




The Favorites list in Internet Explorer seems to have a mind of its own. Much of the time it grows in an apparently random manner, as new entries are added but if you try to take charge, by sorting it alphabetically (right-click an entry and click ‘Sort by name’) then frequently visited sites end up all over the place. There is an easy way to bring order to the chaos and that’s to force your favourite Favorites to appear at the top of the list. It’s easy, just right click on the ones you want to see, select rename and type an ‘A’ plus a space in front of the name. If you want to sort them into a specific order then type a number after the letter, i.e. A1, A2 and so on.




Here are a few quick tips to tidy up the Outlook Express desktop and make it easier to use. You should know by now what all of the icons and buttons do, so switch off the text labels and use small icons and you get an instant increase in screen area for your messages and mailboxes. Simply right-click on a toolbar and select Customize and in the two drop-down boxes (Text Options and Icon Options) select No text labels and Small Icons respectively.  Click Close. There’s more savings still to be had. Click on the vertical separator bar on the far left of the Icon toolbar and drag it onto empty space on the menu bar (to the right of Help).


To round off, here’s a couple of quick time-savers, instead of mousing your way to the Send/Receive button a dozen times a day just remember the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + M for Send/Receive. You can also save mouse/wrist strain when switching between folders by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Y




Buried inside the Outlook Express Address book there’s been a facility that for many years only worked if you lived in the US. Double click an entry, select the 'Home' tab, where you enter your contacts address, and at the bottom of the field is a button marked View Map. I had completely forgotten about it until a couple of day ago, whilst poking arounf the address book for something else, I absently mindedly clicked on it and was surprised to find that it works. Clicking on the button takes you the mapping page, which will take you to a fairly decent local map. It seems to be a bit hit and miss and may not get to street-level detail but it could prove handy if you need to find out roughly where someone lives





Google’s dominance of the search engine market is probably not in doubt but things change quickly in this business and you, (and they) might want to have a look at everyclick. In addition to being a darn fine search engine -- they know all about BootLog -- there’s an added bonus in that 50 percent of the revenues it generates from advertising goes to charity. If you make a purchase through one of the site’s sponsored links a proportion of it will also go to charity. Some really big names are involved, like ebay, Air France, Carphone Warehouse and Expedia, to name just a few. The AA, for example will donate up to £30 if you take out one of its motor insurance policies after clicking through to its website from an everyclick link. Go on, give it a try, it works really well and tell a friend.




Like buses you don’t see a Firefox tip for ages, then a dozen come along at once… Here’s a small selection of some really useful keyboard shortcuts that are worth committing to memory and will save you having to reach for the mouse when surfing with your favourite browser.


Ctrl + 1, 2, 3 etc. switches to an open tab

Ctrl + B opens Bookmark pane

Ctrl + F opens Find on page

Ctrl + H opens History dialogue box and list

Ctrl + N opens a new window

Ctrl + O open local file dialogue box

Ctrl + R refreshes current Page 1 of 1

Ctrl + S saves current page to disc

Ctrl + T opens a new tab

Ctrl + Tab steps through open tabs in sequence

Ctrl + U shows page source code

Ctrl + W closes open tab




Let’s suppose you‘ve just taken a load of photographs of a colleagues wedding and you’ve promised copies to ten friends, several of who live overseas. You could do a mass mail out, assuming that your ISP lets you send multi-megabyte attachments, but it’s going to take you forever, so here’s an easier way. Simply upload all of the photos onto a file-sharing site and email the web link to your friends so they can view and downloaded the images themselves. It’s really easy and there are plenty of free and paid for file-sharing sites to choose from, lke TinyPic, Photobucket and Imagehosting There are generally few restrictions apart from a maximum file size limit but since few things in life are really free, visitors can usually expect to see a few ads. It’s also worth pointing out that these are public sites, and the public being what they are means that on some of them there may be images of an adult nature so if you poke around looking at what others have posted you should be on the alert for warnings and signposts.




If you receive a lot of emails from the same people, or relating to the same subject then there’s a little used feature in Outlook Express that’s worth getting to know. It’s called Sort By and you’ll find it on the View menu. For example, if you want to group all the emails you received from one person, to make them easier to find, simply highlight one of their messages then go to View > Sort By and click ‘From’ on the drop down menu. Use the same procedure to group mails by Subject, Size, whether or not they’re flagged or if they have an attachment. It’s fast, easy and makes sorting through your mailboxes a whole lot easier.




As you know Firefox opens on your chosen home page, but you can take advantage of the ‘tabbed’ windows and force it to open with multiple home pages. This is a boon if, like me, you always open the same two or three pages every day. It’s really simple to do, just go to Tools > Options and click the General icon. In the Home Page section, in the ‘Location(s)’ box put a space then a vertical separator (‘|’ shift - backspace)) after your current home page, then type in the URL of the next one, and so on. There doesn’t appear to be any limit to the number of pages, though obviously the more you have the longer it takes for them all to appear. Incidentally, there’s another, even simpler way to do it, just open the pages you want to see in tabs then go to Tools > Options and in the Home Page section click the ‘Use Current Pages’ button.




You may have heard about address ‘spoofing’ where apparently legitimate internet sites are actually cloned by fraudsters in attempt to fool you into revealing passwords, pin numbers or credit card details. Well, if you ever find yourself on a web site and you are the slightest bit dubious on no account enter any details before you have checked it out, and never, repeat never enter your credit card details into a web page that doesn’t display the Secure Transaction logo (a locked padlock) in the status bar at the bottom.


As a double check you could also try this simple little trick. By entering a short line of text in the Address Bar of the page you are looking at you can reveal the actual host URL and this may tell you if it is connected to the site it purports to belong to. Just copy (Ctrl + C) the line (below in bold), click into the address box to highlight the displayed address then press Ctrl +V to paste the line, press Enter and a message box with the ‘Actual URL’ will be displayed:


javascript:alert("Actual URL address: " + location.protocol + "//" + location.hostname + "/");





Here’s a crafty little tip for concerned parents who want to keep tabs on their offspring’s Internet use, particularly if junior has an XP PC in his or her bedroom, and you have a feeling they are logging on after lights-out. This tip will let you restrict access to the Internet at preset times and in this example we’ll be imposing a ban from 10pm to 7am, Monday to Friday. Incidentally it won’t switch off the Internet if they are already online but it will stop them making a new connection during curfew time.


Go to Run on the Start menu and type ‘cmd’ (without the quotes). This will open a DOS-type window and at the flashing prompt type the following:


net user <username> /time:M-F,07:00-22:00


Simply replace <username> with the young person’s username; days of the week are represented by the letters: M, T, W, Th, F, Sa, Su and the times should be self-explanatory so tweak as required.




There are still a few rogue websites -- like Microsoft Update -- that simply won’t have anything to do with Firefox. At least MS has an excuse of sorts but it’s still very inconvenient to have to fire up Internet Explorer just to view a page but the good folks at Mozilla clearly hold no grudges and you can persuade Firefox to open IE and display the dissident website by installing an freeware 'extension’. It’s called IE View and when it has been installed and you get the dreaded ‘You need Internet Explorer to view this page’ message just right-click into an empty area of the page and select ‘View this page in IE’ and all will be revealed.




There are vartious ways to make the already nimble Firefox browser go even quicker. This is possible because it is Open Source software and expert users are encouraged to delve into its inner works and fiddle around with the various config settings. Well, this go-faster tip is for everyone, it a small freeware utility called FireTune that takes all of the guesswork out of tweaking Firefox and automatically optimises performance according to your PC specs and broadband connection. It’s safe and any changes it makes can be easily undone using the configuration backup option. It works too and on my office PCs graphics-heavy pages and sites requiring password authentication definitely took less time to load after installing FireTune




This feature of Windows XP Home and Pro irritates a lot of users but the good news is that it can be easily switched off. There are two methods so let’s start with the simplest one. Download and install the Microsoft utility Tweak UI. It’s free and in addition to disabling the unread message announcement it can do a lot of other useful things besides but that’s something for another time. When Tweak UI is installed it will appear on your All Programs list under ‘Powertoys for XP’, select Logon then ‘Unread Mail’ and uncheck ‘Show unread mail on Welcome Screen’.


For those of you who know their way around the Windows Registry here’s another way, And don’t forget to backup the Registry first or create a System Restore point before you begin. Launch the Registry Editor by typing ‘regedit’ (without the quotes) in Run on the Start menu and if you are the only user make your way to:




If your PC is used by several people go to: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\



Create a DWORD key by right clicking in the right window can call it MessageExpiryDays then give it a value of 0. Exit Regedit and reboot and the message will be no more




Here’s another really useful add-on or ‘extension’ for Mozilla Firefox. This one adds a dictionary facility, just highlight and double-click on a word (or press Ctrl + Shift + D) and up pops the definition. The extension is called Dictionary Tooltip, it is small, installs automatically and is ready to run the next time you launch Firefox. You can change the size and shape of the dictionary pop-up and re-configure the mouse and keyboard shortcuts from the Firefox Tools menu (select Extensions and double-click Dictionary Tooltip.




If you still need a reason to switch to Firefox then how about this. Unlike Internet Explorer Firefox can be easily customised and given extra functionality with add-ons or ‘extensions’. There are hundreds of them and it would take forever to list them all but here’s one you should try if, like most people living in the UK, you are obsessed by the weather.


It’s called Forecastfox and it displays a small unobtrusive toolbar on the bottom of the browser window that tells you what your local is weather now, and what’s it likely to be in the next day or two. You can click on it for static and animated satellite weather images and you can call up extra details like humidity, visibility, dewpoint, wind speed and direction and so on. The download is small (361kb), it installs automatically it starts automatically when you launch Firefox




How well is your broadband connection working? There are plenty of web sites that will carry out a basic speed check on your connection for but this one, Tweaks from Broadband Reports conducts a non-intrusive test and based on the information you supply (type of connection, advertised speed, operating system)  suggests things you can do to improved speed and efficiency. Some of the suggestions are quite advanced but clicking on the links will take you to FAQs and tutorials that guide you through the procedures.




Here’s yet another Firefox tuning tweak but this one avoids the need to delve into the browser's complicated configuration menu and fiddle about with critical settings. Fasterfox is a freeware utility that includes a number of options to make Firefox run quicker and download pages faster, and for the adventurous there’s a selection of manual adjustments. If you experience problems then you can reset Firefox to its default condition with one click. Fasterfox is small, it virtually installs itself and the simple to use controls appear in Options on the Tools menu.




If you have a broadband connection and read a lot of PDF (Portable Document Format) documents you may well find that the Adobe Acrobat Reader plug-in can be a quite slow to open in Firefox, which can be quite frustrating. There is a way to speed it up and that is to have Firefox download the PDF file first and then open it in a compact Acrobat Reader window. (This tweak probably won't do much good if you have a slow dial-up connection).


All you have to do it go to the Firefox Tools menu, select Options then click the Download icon and then the Plugins button. Uncheck the line 'Adobe Acrobat Document', click OK to close the Windows and it's done.




If you’ve followed our advice you will be viewing this page using the most excellent Mozilla Firefox browser. Apart from being more secure than Internet Explorer it is also faster and easier to use with its tabbed browser windows and a host of useful features like the built in pop-up stopper, but did you know that it is also highly customisable?


This is one of the many benefits of Open Source software and hundreds of users have devised eye-catching ‘Themes’ that change the appearance and in some cases the functionality of Firefox, and they’re free. They only take a few moments to install (just reboot after the file has downloaded) and if you don’t like it you can easily try another one or switch back to the standard Theme from the Tools menu. There’s a good selection to get you started on the Mozilla website




Eazy Backup (,  backs up over 20 applications including OE (rules and all), Outlook, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird, Eudora, My Documents, My Desktop on XP etc.  It’s not free, it costs $49.95, but as its name implies, it is very easy to use and restoring applications is virtually idiot-proof.





Here’s another one of those useful keyboard shortcuts that can save you a few precious seconds every day. This one comes in handy when you are entering a web address in your browser and it works for on Internet Explorer and Firefox. Normally you have to reach for the mouse, click into the Address bar then tap in the address. Not any more, forget the mouse, just hit Alt + D, the cursor ‘snaps’ to the Address bar and highlights the current entry so when you type in the new address and it will automatically replace the old one. Don’t mock, all these little savings are adding up…. 




This quick and simple little tip will save several seconds each time you type in a dot com Internet address in your browser. All you have to do is enter the site name, e.g. ‘’ then hit Ctrl + Enter and the http://www. and .com bits of the address are added automatically. Unfortunately it only works with web addresses ending in .com but a lot of UK based companies and web sites, such as the BBC own both and .com domain names so you will find that it often works. 




You would be amazed how many mass emails and press releases from individuals and companies in the IT sector -- who really should know better -- bear the email addresses of everyone else it has been sent to. The problem is they’ve used the Cc (carbon copy) facility to send the email to lots of different people, so I get to see their addresses at the top of the message. Clearly this has privacy implications but it is very easy to avoid. If you want to send an email to a lot of different people simply address it to yourself then add all of the recipient’s addresses to the Bcc (Blind Carbon copy) list.  Incidentally, if you can’t see the Bcc option in a New Message Windows go to the View menu and click ‘All Headers’.




Several sites on the Internet list the main Outlook Express error codes, usually with a short description of what they mean. Unfortunately these are not always very enlightening but some of the sites listed below have links to other sources of help or Microsoft Knowledgebase articles.


For more general help with OE problems have a look at the Kellys Korner site at:




If you are going to be out of the office for a few hours or the whole day you can easily let anyone sending you emails know that they may not get a reply straight away. Outlook Express has the equivalent of an e-mail answering machine facility built in that will automatically reply to any incoming email messages. (Note that the PC and Outlook Express both have to be running and online or connected to a network).


Start by creating the message that you want anyone sending you an email to receive, something along the lines 'Sorry I'll be away until …'. To do that click on New Mail, type in the text of your message then go to the File menu and use Save As to name and save the message in a location of your choosing. Next go to Tools > Message Rules > Mail and click the New button. In the first box select 'For All Messages', in the second box choose 'Reply With Message' and in the third box click on the underlined Message and direct it to your reply email. Click okay and it's done.




If you’ve tried Skype (, the free voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) program that lets you make and take ‘phone’ calls with other Skype users anywhere in the world then you are going to really like this free add-on. It’s called Pamela and it adds a number of useful features to a standard Skype setup, including automatic answering and voice greeting, a recording facility and text chat messaging. Pamela is highly configurable, it’s freeware (there is also a more sophisticated paid-for version) and it can be downloaded from:




There’s usually no reason why you have to use the broadband modem supplied by your ISP, however network modems work in a slightly different way to USB modems, which are normally set up using a configuration program that runs on the PC to which they are connected. A network modem will have its own local Internet Protocol (IP) address and is configured using an Internet browser. Once the address has been entered in the browser window (usually something like the modem asks for a password and PIN and then displays a set of web-like menu pages into which your broadband service name and password can be entered. 




Here’s a neat Outlook Express tip to make it easier to quickly find emails by colour coding messages from friends or colleagues. Go to Tools > Message Rules > and click the New button. Under Conditions check ‘Where the From Line Contains People’ then under Actions select ‘Highlight it with Colour’. Next in the Rule Descriptions box double click the underlined ‘Contains People’ and enter the sender’s name or email address then click the underlined ‘Color’ and make your selection (unfortunately the choice is fairly uninspiring). Click OK and to finish off click the Apply Now button. 




If Outlook Express mail folders are slow to open here’s something to try, but first a couple of words of warning. This procedure applies to Windows 98/SE/ME and OE5/6 and it’s for advanced users.  A common cause for a slowdown is corrupted Protected Storage Service files. To replace them you’ll need to load your Windows installation CD-ROM or know the location of the Windows ‘cab’ files on your PC’s hard drive. Shut down IE and OE and open Windows Explorer. Go to C:\Windows\System and rename (change the extension to ‘old’) or move the following files to another location: psbase.dll, pstorec.dll, pstorerc.dll and pstores.exe. Now go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information. On the Tools menu select System File Checker and click the item ‘Extract one file…’. Type the name of each file in turn and follow the prompts. Shut down and reboot.




Is your Outlook Express slowing down? If it is taking longer to start or folders are slow to open then it’s often because you have too many messages filling up your mailboxes. However, the first thing to try is OE’s Clean Up utility you’ll find it on the Tools menu, select Options then Maintenance. This will remove any wasted space in the message folders but it’ll only bring temporary relief if you have more than 5000 or so messages in any of your mailboxes in which case the only solution is to backup then delete old messages. 




Scam emails are usually very easy to identify and the first and most obvious give-away is that someone you don’t know is offering you something that you have not asked for. If you have any doubts don’t open it but check the address it has been sent from. In Outlook Express right-click the email message in your Inbox, select Properties then the Details tab and click the Message Source button. It will almost certainly be from an unknown or anonymous source. Check also your own details, quite often the address is wrong or it’s not specifically addressed to you by name. Delete the message immediately if it contains any attachments but if you feel the urge to read it you will notice that bank and lottery ‘officials’ and overseas royalty are not noted for their spelling and grammar or command of the English language…




Thunderbird uses a plain text format to store messages so they can be read using any text editor or word processor. This also means it is easier to move your emails to another PC, import them into another email program, or back into OE. Thunderbird email folders and settings are kept in a single folder, called a Profile. In Windows 9x (98/SE/ME) they are stored in:

C:\Windows\Application Data\Thunderbird\Profiles\

In Windows XP they can be found in:

C:\Documents and Settings\<yourname>\ApplicationData\


If you want to know more about Thunderbird or have any unanswered questions there are two excellent FAQs at:






Unlike Internet Explorer Mozilla and Mozilla Firefox do not keep a secret hidden file listing all of the web sites you have visited. It does store cookies though and there is also a page cache and a History file and Password Manager, but these are all much easier to control. In Firefox go to Tools > Options and click the Privacy icon where you will find details of everything Firefox stores, how long it is kept and buttons to clear the files. In Mozilla go to Preferences on the Edit menu and under Categories click Privacy and Security for a similar set of options.





You can print all or part of the contents of your Address Book in three different styles. Open the Address Book by clicking the Toolbar icon, if you only want to print selected entries click the ones you want include by holding down the Ctrl key, if there’s a lot of them hold down Shift and use the cursor keys or the Page Down key. When you have made your selection, or if you want to print them all click the Print button and choose the style (Memo – all information, Business Card – names, email address and phone number or Phone List – phone numbers only).  If you right-click on your printer and select Properties or Preferences you may be able to change the size of the printout, to fit your organiser or address book for example, otherwise click the Print button.




Some browser speed-up tips and tweaks may only yield relatively small improvements in the order of a few milliseconds, which can be difficult to assess given the many other factors that determine the speed of data flowing around the Internet. Nevertheless it is possible to measure the speed at which web pages load, so you can make accurate comparisons, before and after you’ve made changes using the web ‘stopwatch facility at: Just type in the address of a website, preferably one with lots of images or graphics, make a note of the time it takes to load, change a setting then try again an see if it makes a difference.




If you have several web sites on your Favorites list that require passwords to access, but you don’t want to them to be automatically remembered by IE here’s a trick to make them easily accessible, but hidden from normal view. Open your Favorites list, right-click on the entry for a site that needs a password and select Rename. Press the space bar a half dozen or so times to enter in some blank spaces then type in your password; you can jumble or reverse the order if you’re really cautious. Because of the width of the Favorites list your password won’t normally be visible but you can show it by dragging the Favorites list border a few centimetres to the right.




If you are taking a laptop, organiser or mobile phone with email access on a trip create a small document file containing important numbers, names and contacts that might come in useful in case of an emergency, such as your passport number and local telephone numbers for your insurance company etc. You can disguise or hide the numbers in an email or letter, so that no one else can understand them. Give the file an innocuous name – e.g. ‘trav126.txt’ -- and hide it in an unrelated folder. Before you leave send the file to yourself in the form of an email, so you can access it, from an Internet café for instance, using an email web server (e.g. if your equipment is lost or stolen.




If your phone is connected to a digital exchange and you have BT Call Waiting or Call Minder services you may experience problems with Internet connections. Windows 9xcan automatically switch the Call Waiting bleeper off before you connect. Open Modems in Control Panel and select the General Tab. Click on Dialling Properties and check the box marked ' To Disable Call Waiting Dial' (or 'How I dial from this Location') in the adjacent box enter # 43 # (hash 43 hash). You will have to manually switch Call Waiting back on again after you log off by dialling * 43 # (star 43 hash). Call Minder generates a 'stutter' dial tone to let you know you have a message waiting; this does not agree with a lot of modems, so before you go on-line pick up your messages by first dialling 1571.




Did you know that in Outlook Express (v5 onwards) you can attach a sound file to an email that will play automatically as soon as it is opened on the recipient’s computer? You can specify how many times it’s played, or even make it play continuously, if you really want to annoy someone, the possibilities -- for good and mischief -- are endless…


First record your sound as a *.wav file using Windows Sound Recorder (Start > Programs> Accessories > Entertainment) most PCs these days have a microphone input. Create your message as usual in the New Message window, on the Format menu make sure Rich Text (HTML) is checked, click anywhere in the message window and go to Background on the Format menu, select Sound and use the Browse button to locate your sound file, set the number of plays, click OK and send your message.




The right button on your mouse can do some interesting tricks when you're looking at Internet web pages. Click anywhere on the page and you'll see a number of options. The most useful one is to add the address of the current page to your favourite list. If you come across a background design, that you'd like to use as wallpaper on your desktop, right click on the pattern and choose the Set as Wallpaper option. Selecting Copy Background puts the image into the clipboard memory, so you can import it into a graphics program, or it can be filed away, as a .gif or .jpg image, in the file or folder of your choice, using the Save Background As… option.




One of the main complaints about the Internet is how long it sometimes takes to access and download pages. There's an easy way to speed things up and that is to just load text. Instead of all the pictures, graphics, advertising banners and sounds you will just see icons. If you want to see or hear an item just right click on the icon and you will get the option to load it. In IE5 onwards go to Internet Options on the Tools menu the Advanced tab, scroll down Multimedia and uncheck the appropriate boxes. A similar facility in Netscape Navigator is listed under Preferences on the Edit menu, click Advanced and uncheck the Automatically Load Images box.



There are probably at least one or two Internet web sites that you visit frequently -- search engines or a particular home page etc. Rather than waste time opening your browser, manually selecting the address from the favourites list and making the connection, just create a simple keyboard short cut - it's easy! Pressing the keys will take you straight to your chosen web site from within any application.


On the Start menu click Favourites, right-click the site you are interested in then select Properties and the Internet Shortcut tab. In the Shortcut Key box you will see 'None', click in a cursor and type a single letter -- choose one that relates to the site  you can easily remember, such as 'Y' for Yahoo, etc. -- the field will now display the assigned shortcut, i.e. 'Ctrl + Alt + Y'. Click OK and try it out. Internet Explorer opens automatically and takes you straight to the web site. (If IE is not your chosen browser you will have to open it and manually add the web site address to the Favourites list)




Web pages can often be difficult to read especially if text colours clash with fancy backgrounds and patterns. On Microsoft Internet Explorer there's a very handy feature that will allow you to make quite significant changes to the way web pages are displayed, and in particular the colours used for web site addresses that you have and haven't visited and the so-called 'hover' colour. The latter is the colour change that occurs when your mouse pointer passes over and highlights a web address. Open Explorer and on the View menu choose Internet Options, select the General tab and click the Colours button at the bottom of the window. To change a default click on the appropriate colour block and choose a new one from the palette which appears, or create your own custom colour. A similar feature is available on Netscape Navigator on the Options menu under General Preferences.




These days creating your own web pages couldn't be simpler and you can let your imagination and artistic inclinations run wild. Unfortunately some web page designers, and that includes professionals who should know better, sometimes make a right hash of it when it comes to displaying text on web pages. Coloured or patterned backgrounds and excessively light or dark text can make reading difficult, impossible in some cases, but here's a quick and easy way to make the words stand out. Just press the Ctrl + Alt keys and all of the text on display will be highlighted, making it much easier to read.




Heavy-duty Internet users, here's a way to save yourself several seconds a week by increasing the dialling speed of your PC and modem. It may not work with some modems or phone lines but it's worth a try. Go to Control Panel click on the Modem icon, then Properties and select the Connection tab and click on Advanced. In the Extra Settings field enter S11=50 then click OK. S11determines the duration of each tone pulse, in milliseconds, the second number specifies the gap between each tone, thus reducing the number to 45 say, makes it dial even faster, increasing the number slows it down. If the connection fails or becomes unreliable simply clear the Extra Settings field to return to the default values.





You can check up on your PC's connection speed to the Internet with a few simple clicks. Whilst on line a small double monitor icon appears in the System Tray, next to the clock: if you place the mouse pointer over it you will see a summary of bytes sent and received and modem connection speed. Click on the icon and the disconnect dialogue box appears, with the same information displayed. However, unless the modem has been properly configured the connection speed may appear impossibly high, at 115,200 bits/sec. This is the speed at which the PC is communicating with the modem, rather than the speed of data flowing down the telephone line. To remedy that you will need to program the modem with an AT command to display transfer speed in the dialogue box. Open Control Panel and double click on the Modem icon, make sure your modem is highlighted on the General tab, select Properties, then the Connection tab and then the Advanced Button. In the field marked Extra settings enter one of the following commands -- if one doesn't work try another. W2 (for modems with Rockwell chipsets), AT&F1 (3COM and USR models) or MR=2 (later Rockwell models and PCI cards). If you still see 115,200 bits/sec try your modem manual or visit the manufacturer's web site and look for the Report DCE speed (Data Communication Equipment) command line.  




One of the most annoying tricks web sites pull is to open multiple browser windows, and 'pop-ups' usually without so much as a by your leave. This can happen very quickly and in some cases they open faster than you can close them, or they open in 'Kiosk' mode, where there's no close or minimise icons to click on. The trick is to use the Windows shortcut Ctrl + W to close them quickly, one, by one. You could also use the Alt+F4 shortcut, but it's more of a stretch and there's the danger that if you get a bit careless you might shut another program down as well




In the previous Tip we mentioned the dreaded Internet 'Kiosk Mode', where a web site opens a browser window automatically but without any toolbars, menus, minimise or close buttons. In effect you are stuck with it, unless you know the Ctrl + W or Alt + F4 shortcut to get rid of it. Kiosk mode does have its uses however. For example, if you are using Internet Explorer to display web pages on a PC at an exhibition or AV presentation and you don't want all the toolbars and other gubbins taking up screen space. Here's how to force Internet Explorer into Kiosk mode. Go to Run on the Start menu and type 'iexplore –k' (without the quotes), followed by the address of the page or web site you want to display. If you just type 'iexplore –k' it will open on your selected home page.




A lot of people are naturally concerned that private files on their Windows PCs could be opened or ‘hacked’ whilst they are connected to the Internet. In practice this is extremely unlikely; however, you can reassure yourself and make sure it won’t happen by ensuring that no-one has enabled the facility that allows external access to your PC’s hard drive. From the Start menu select Settings then Control Panel and double click on the Network icon. Now click on the File and Print Sharing button and make sure that the item ‘I want to be able to give others access to my files’ is unchecked.




It can be incredibly frustrating waiting for Internet pages to appear, especially at peak times, you may even start wondering if you are still connected, or maybe your browser program has frozen?  Here’s a quick and simple test; whilst on-line with your browser open go to Start > Programs > MSDOS, to open up a DOS window. At the flashing prompt type ‘ping’ (without the inverted commas) followed by the Internet site address. This will call up the web site four times and measure how long it takes to reply, in milliseconds (ms), showing minimum, maximum and average times. Anything under 200 ms is normal, any longer and your connection is slow or the Internet is very busy and you should try again later.




Here’s a quick one for people who use Outlook Express to collect their email when away from home, on other people’s PCs, Internet Café PCs or laptops. By default OE downloads messages from the server to the PC, which can be awkward if it’s not your machine. To stop that happening go to Tools and then Accounts, highlight the account you’re using and select Properties. Click on the Advanced tab and check the item "Leave a copy of message on server". Now you can read your messages when you are away, and when you get home you can download them onto your main PC




This simple tweak that can help reduce the time it takes for your PC to make a connection to your Internet Service Provider, but only try this if it’s a stand-alone machine, i.e. not hooked up to a network. Open Dial Up Networking by going to Start > Programs > Accessories > Communications > Dial Up Networking. Right click on the icon for your ISP connection and select Properties and the Server Types tab. In Advanced Options uncheck 'Log on to Networks' and below that, under Allowed Networks make sure that only TCP/IP is checked. Click OK and give it a try, if all's well Internet Explorer (or your chosen browser) should log on and establish a connection a little faster than before. In the unlikely event that anything odd happens simply go back to Dial Up Networking and restore the default settings (i.e. Log on to Networks, NetBeui and IPX/SPX all checked).  




On Internet Explorer it is possible to open a second smaller browser window by clicking on a link, so you can still see, and quickly return to the original page without reloading it. Just hold down the shift button before left clicking on the link. Here are some more IE keyboard shortcuts. Ctrl + D adds the current web page to your Favourite list. Ctrl + H opens the History folder, Ctrl + N opens a new browser window, Ctrl + W closes the active browser window and Ctrl + R reloads the page you are viewing.




If you are using Outlook Express and you receive and send a lot of email then your Inbox and Outbox folders could be swallowing up a lot of valuable hard disc space. Get into the habit of regularly 'compacting' the files, this can also make them small enough to backup to a floppy disc. Click and highlight the selected Inbox or Outbox folder icon then go to the File menu, select Folder and Compact Folder.




This handy little trick can help make sending emails easier. It will put a new icon on your Start menu. When you click on it a blank email message window opens from where you can compose and send an email, without waiting for Outlook Express to open. Move your mouse pointer to the Start button, right-click on it and select Explore from the menu that appears. When the Explorer window opens, right-click in an empty spot in the right-hand pane and select New, then Shortcut. The Create Shortcut dialogue box should appear; under Command Line type in 'mailto:' (leaving off the quotation marks) then click on Next. Now you can give your shortcut a name, clear the highlighted default name and type in something like 'email' or 'messend', and select close. Now go to the Start menu and try out your new high-speed message system.




Using the same basic procedure you can create a personalised message window for anyone that you frequently send emails to, with their address automatically inserted. As before, right-click into an empty part of the desktop, select New and then Shortcut from the menu. In the window that appears, in the Command Line field, type, where the part after mailto: is the recipient’s email address. Click Next, give your new Shortcut a name then click Finish.




Here's a way to turn your Internet Explorer/Outlook Express email Address Book into a text file that can read by a word processor, or imported into other email programs. Open Address Book and on the File menu select Export, then Address Book. In the dialogue box that appears select 'Text File (comma separated values)' and click the Export button. Type in the path (where you want the file to be stored) and give the file a name, for example: C:\my documents\adbook.txt. Select Next, check the items you wish to export and click Finish. 




If you receive a lot of messages on the same topic, or from the same sender (maybe you print out a lot of emails) then there is a very convenient but little known feature in Outlook Express that allows you to combine messages into one document, for reading or printing. Open the mailbox containing the messages you want to combine and highlight them by holding down the Ctrl key and clicking on each one in turn. Now go to the Messsage menu and select Combine and Decode. You will be asked if you want to change the order of the messages, if not click OK and the new combined document will be created, use SaveAs on the file menu to save it as a new document.




Here is a way to send a photograph with an email, by inserting it into the actual message. This only works when your email client program – we’ll assume you are using Outlook or Outlook Express – is set to send HTML (Hypertext mark-up language) and the person you are sending it to can receive HTML messages. Click on the New Message icon, go to the Format drop-down menu and make sure ‘Rich Text (HTML)’ is selected. Now all you have to do is compose your message as normal and when you come to the point where you want the picture to go click on the Insert Picture icon (it looks like a postcard) then use the Browse button to locate the image file. It will appear in the message window, as the recipient will see it. Finish your message and send it as normal.





If you are using Internet Explorer (v5 onwards) and you haven’t tried Internet radio yet, there’s a radio tuner facility hidden away inside your browser. To enable it click on Tools > Internet Options and select the Advanced tab. Scroll down the list to the Multimedia heading and check the item ‘Always Show Internet Explorer Radio Bar’. Click Okay and exit the dialogue box, now right click into an empty area of the toolbar and select Radio from the drop-down menu. A new toolbar appears, click on Radio Stations and Radio Station Guide, which will take you to the Windows Media radio tuner home page. From there you can select a list of stations according to style, content, language etc. This will either take you to the station’s home page, and a live ‘listen’ button, which lets you hear what’s going on through Windows Media Player (Be patient, it can take a few seconds before you hear anything, as the data has to be ‘buffered’ in the PC’s memory to prevent breaks in sound caused by heavy traffic on the Internet).  Some stations may require you to have special player software but there is usually a link on the page to the appropriate download web site.




Some modems just won’t play ball and stubbornly refuse to work with Windows or do strange things, like randomly dropping the line, or operating at ridiculously low data rates. If yours is playing up it’s worth trying a standard Windows modem driver. Open Control Panel and click on Add/Remove Hardware, click Next until you get to the screen that asks you if you want Windows to look for new devices, select No, on the ‘Hardware Types’ list double-click the Modem icon, check ‘Don’t detect my modem…’ and click Next. Make sure ‘Standard Modem Types’ is highlighted under ‘Manufacturers’. In the right pane select ‘Standard 56000bps V90’ or the option that best matches your modem, click Next and continue to the end. To revert to your previous custom driver remove the Standard Modem entry in Device Manager (right-click My Computer and select Properties) re-boot and Windows will detect your modem and re-install the original driver (have your driver disc to hand).    




Here's an interesting freeware (to home users) utility that claims to be able to spot and zap those incredibly annoying 'pop-up' ads that appear whilst you are browsing web pages. Adsubtract also blocks cookies and in theory will speed up download times having removed all of the clutter. If you want to give it a try pay a visit to:




Are  there any adware or spyware programs lurking on your PC? One easy way to find out is with a program called Ad-Aware. It's freeware and the file is around 860kB in size so it should only take a few minutes to download. Once installed it is very simple to use and normally takes just a couple of minutes to scan a 10Gb hard disc drive. If it finds any adware files it offers to safely isolate and delete them. Ad-Aware is routinely featured on PC magazine cover-mount discs but I recommend that you use the latest version (v5.5), which is now available from:




You don't have to put up with the default toolbar in Outlook Express. You can add or remove icons by right-clicking into an empty area of the toolbar and selecting Customise. Scroll down the list in the left hand pane (Available Toolbar Buttons), select one that you want to use and click Add. Two that I find very useful are Mark Read and Preview Pane. The latter toggles the Preview Pane on and off; I have it disabled by default (the option is on the View menu, under Layout) as it clutters the desktop and can activate email viruses like Nimda, but it's useful to have occasionally, when working through long lists of messages. 




If you use Outlook Express and send your emails in plain text then you can make them much easier for others to read by changing the line length, which is set by default to 76 characters.  To do that go to the Tools menu and select Options and then the Send tab. Click the Plain Text Settings button and use the down arrow to change the 'Automatically wrap text at' value to 65. If OE is set to send text as Rich Text or HTML there's no need to worry, as it will automatically wrap to fit the recipient's message window.




Search engines are not noted for having a sense of humour but you can brighten up your Internet exploration if you use Google ( by changing the language. The next time you visit Google – and make it soon, it's still the best search engine around – click on the Preferences, next to the Search Field, then click the down arrow next to Interface Language. Try Hacker, it's surprisingly easy to read after a while, and Bork bork bork! might amuse anyone of a Swedish disposition but our favourite has to be Elmer Fudd. Whilst you are there you might also want to increase the number of displayed results from the default setting of 10 to 20, to speed things up a bit. Now where are awl wose wascally web pwages…?




Outlook Express, like most Windows programs, is a lot easier to use if you remember a few keyboard shortcuts. For example Ctrl + P prints the currently displayed message and you can view a message Properties (the identity of the sender, it’s size and even the route it took to get to you) by highlighting it and pressing Alt + Enter. There’s a full list of keyboard shortcuts in OE Help (select the Index tab and type ‘short’).




Just how good is your Internet connection? There are lots of web sites that can test your connection speed; however each can only give you a snapshot of what is happening at the time, moreover speed will vary according to various other factors, including the geographical location of the server doing the test. For a more accurate picture you should try several sites – see below -- at different times of day and average out the results. Remember, just because you have a 56Kbps modem it is very unlikely you will achieve anything like that speed; in real world conditions you are more likely to get between 30 and 40kbps.


General test sites


For ISDN and ADSL connections




Here’s a quick timesaving tip for advanced users. This simple Registry hack disables the Outlook Express ‘Splash Screen’ that appears every time you start the program. OE will then open more or less instantly. Don’t  forget, before you tinker around with the Registry always make a backup!


Open Regedit then go to: HKEY_CURRENT_USER \ Identities

For OE 5 go below this to { -- ABC123XYZ….. long alphanumeric code } \Software \ Microsoft \ Outlook Express \ 5.0. Right click into the right-hand pane and select New > DWORD, rename the DWORD ‘NoSplash’ (without the inverted commas) and give it a Value of 1. Close Regedit and try it out, now all you have to do is think what you’ll do with all the time you saved…



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