Bob and Joy
                                      
 
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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September 2005, Week 2 -- Keep It Clean

Fix-It Utilities

   If your computer is running slowly, there may be more than spyware to blame. PCs are prone to slow down, crash or freeze for no apparent reason. But often it's because of the residue from programs that have been installed and later removed.

   The same things happen to us, so we ran the new version of Fix-It Utilities (Fix-It 6), $50, from www.V-com.com. This program has been around for many years, so a lot of experience has gone into refining it for each new version. Here's our experience:
   We started Fix-It and clicked on the "One Stop Solutions" button. One of our sub-choices was labeled "All in One," and we clicked on that as a likely kind of title to take care of general housekeeping. The program then proceeded to clean our computer -- for the next 17 hours!
     Now you have to understand that the computer we were cleaning had more than 130 programs loaded into it. That would not be the situation for most people. The first clean-up for most users would take somewhere between one-half and two hours. Subsequent cleanings would take about 15 minutes and can be set to start automatically at times when you wouldn't be using the machine -- middle of the night on a weekend, for example.
     Fix-It got rid of 1,518 registry items that were causing us problems. It zipped 1,365 files that were orphaned (lost their originating programs) or corrupted, and moved those files into an "undo" archive, in case we later decided we were better off before they were removed. The cleaning continued with the removal or compression of the usual suspects: taking out the trash basket, clearing the temp file, finding duplicates, etc., and defragging the hard drive.

 

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 System Suite 6

 

   Finally, Fix-It 6 gave us the opportunity to add its own anti-spyware and virus protection programs. We already run three anti-spyware programs, but adding another does no harm.

   We're leery of having more than one anti-virus program, however, and the opinions of other users are mixed on this issue. We removed a freebie in favor of theirs, which is from Trend Micro. In the past, Bob has found that running more than one anti-virus has blocked some programs from running properly and has also blocked the downloading of legitimate data.

 

   Fix-It also warns of possible hard disk failure, which you can take seriously or not, as you wish. In general, there's plenty of time to panic.
   Fix-It 6 comes either on its own or as part of a larger package called System Suite 6, which costs $60, instead of the $50 for Fix-It 6 alone. You get some interesting stuff for the extra $10: There's a firewall, an uninstaller, a utility to move programs from one computer to another, anonymous Web surfing, an "autosave" back-up utility, and a "secure erase" utility for wiping your hard drive if you want to donate your computer.
  Maid Service

TSS

If you want someone else to do the cleanup, TSS (www.tss.cc) offers a kind of computer maid service for $10 and up a month. Using a remote control program, TSS will take charge of your computer for an hour or more and do the same kind of maintenance that you could do yourself, but may not want to bother with. It'll empty the trash, clean the temp bin, remove spyware, defrag the drive, etc. It will not work on the registry files, which it considers dangerous.
You can watch what's happening on the screen, but you cannot work on the computer at the same time. If you are mistrustful and think sensitive files are being accessed, you can unplug or stop the action. Cleanup takes an hour or two. Service contracts range from $10 to $30 a month, depending on how much cleaning you want done.
NOTE: You can do all of this cleaning yourself, but as with maid service, some people prefer to just have someone else do it.
Space Kids Internuts

  www.bytetest.com: You can go here to get a free invitation to Google's e-mail service, but availability is limited. As of this writing, 7,680 slots were open. Google Mail is still in the testing stage, but it's been in the testing stage for over a year, and we've been using it for a year with no problems. It's Joy's favorite e-mail service and Bob's second favorite, after AOL. Google mail has a great spam blocker and will hold that spam for 30 days in a special folder in case you want to go over it. It holds your regular e-mail virtually forever, and that is its best feature; you can search previous messages, no matter how old.

  www.spacekids.com: A science Web site aimed at kids. Science news and photos, some of which were snapped by kids.

  Books

  Home Automation

 

 

   "The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Home Automation" by Mark Soper; $22 from Que (www.quepublishing.com).
   Automating your house is in. Of course, it's been in ever since the 1939 New York World's Fair, but now it's possible to actually do it. This book takes you through the steps of automating your appliances, security, heating and cooling, using the popular X10 controls.

 

NOTE: Readers can search several years of columns at the "On Computers" Web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@aol.com and Joy Schwabach at joydee@oncomp.com.