Help Desk Geek Help Desk Tips for IT Pros Tue, 24 Jul 2018 22:01:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Use OpenPGP to Secure Email Tue, 24 Jul 2018 16:04:24 +0000 Aseem Kishore]]> In 1991, Phil Zimmermann created Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), a cryptographic program that, for the first time, gave the average individual near military-grade encryption. Over the years, PGP’s source code was released and an open standard—OpenPGP—was eventually born. This opened the way for a myriad of open source products that continue to offer some of […]

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In 1991, Phil Zimmermann created Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), a cryptographic program that, for the first time, gave the average individual near military-grade encryption. Over the years, PGP’s source code was released and an open standard—OpenPGP—was eventually born. This opened the way for a myriad of open source products that continue to offer some of the best cryptography available.

Who Should Use OpenPGP

Throughout the history of PGP, and encryption in general, there have been countless critics promoting the theory that only those with something nefarious to hide have any reason to use such strong encryption. In fact, shortly after its initial development, Zimmermann found himself the target of an investigation by the US Government when PGP found its way outside the US, violating laws forbidding the export of such powerful encryption.

In point of fact, there are many reasons why a person should use encryption, especially in the context of digital communication. While many people think of email as something relatively private and secure, with few exceptions, nothing could be further from the truth.

Email is more akin to a postcard than a private, sealed letter. Just as a postcard makes its way through multiple depots, post offices, mail trucks and individual hands—with its message plain to see—an email travels through a myriad of individual servers en route from the sender to the ultimate recipient.

Along the way, an unscrupulous server operator could view the contents of such emails, with no way for the sender or recipient to know their privacy had been compromised.

While this is of little concern when sharing a cute pet video, or your favorite new recipe, the stakes become much higher when it’s family members discussing financial issues or health concerns, an executive discussing an internal corporate policy, a programmer sharing source code with another developer, or any number of legitimate situations where it’s important to be able to communicate and share information, or even files, in a secure and private manner.

It is just these kind of situations that makes OpenPGP an important tool for anyone concerned with privacy and security.

How It Works

At its core, OpenPGP is a public-key cryptography system. This kind of cryptography uses a public/private key-pair to encrypt and decrypt data. With public-key cryptography, once data is encrypted with a public key, only the corresponding private key can decrypt it.

When you first install an OpenPGP client, you’re prompted to create a key-pair set and upload your public key to key servers, allowing people to search for it by your name or associated email address.

In addition, OpenPGP also helps individuals to verify the authenticity and integrity of a message or encrypted file thanks to the included digital signature. Many software companies will include a PGP digital signature along with their software’s installer that customers can check to verify the integrity of a download, and help ensure it hasn’t been tampered with or compromised to include malicious code.

How to Use It

In spite of OpenPGP’s value, the one thing that has stymied its widespread adoption is ease-of-use. Like many powerful applications, its barrier-to-entry can sometimes be higher than many users want to deal with.

While there are a myriad of OpenPGP clients—far more than the scope of this article can cover—the steps below should provide a general guide to installing and using OpenPGP.

Download a Client

When downloading an OpenPGP client, the first choice is deciding whether to download the commercial PGP from Symantec, or use one of the free, open source clients available.

Generally, the commercial application offers the most streamlined and polished experience, with options for Mac, Windows and iOS, while the open source clients add support for Linux and Android, not to mention being free-of-charge.

Create the Keys

The next step is to create your public/private keys . You will be asked for your name and email address, as well as the password you will enter encrypting and decrypting data.

While there are a couple of choices of algorithms to use for creating the keys, for most individuals, choosing the default RSA algorithm for both signing and encrypting is the best option. The larger the key, the stronger the encryption. As of the time of publication, 2048-bit keys had been factored, or hacked, although the resources required were well beyond practical application, making a 2048-bit key still viable for moderate security needs.

Since a 4096-bit key is almost exponentially stronger than 2048-bit, a 4096-bit key is considered unhackable for the foreseeable future.

Upload the Key

Once your keys have been created, the next step is to upload your public key so other individuals can find it. Once your key is uploaded, anyone with a OpenPGP client will be able to search for your key based on your email address and use it to encrypt emails and files that only you can open.

You can also directly email your public key to individuals you regularly communicate with so they can use it to encrypt files and emails destined for you.

Integrate With Your Email Application

Since encrypting email is one of the fundamental uses for OpenPGP encryption, integration with your email program of choice is the next step. Many packages—such as GPG Suite by GPGTools—will automatically install a plugin for popular email clients, including Apple Mail, Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird.

When emailing someone whose PGP key you possess, your OpenPGP software should give the option to encrypt and/or sign the email. Likewise, when receiving an email that has been encrypted using your public key, the software will prompt you to decrypt the message.

Without a doubt, OpenPGP encryption is a powerful tool for consumers and professionals alike. Although the learning curve may be a little steeper than many people are accustomed to, the benefits are well worth it.

Whether a journalist working in a dangerous environment, a businessman discussing sensitive internal policy, developers sharing code or family members emailing each other private information, OpenPGP provides its users the peace-of-mind that comes with near military-grade encryption.

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How to Check if Your CPU Temperature is Too High Tue, 13 Mar 2018 19:33:48 +0000 Ollie Green]]> Worried about whether your CPU temperature is too high? This issue will normally only come up if you are trying to overclock your processor. If you’re a computer geek and know how to overclock anything on your computer, you probably don’t have to read this article. However, with more users opting to purchase custom PCs […]

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Worried about whether your CPU temperature is too high? This issue will normally only come up if you are trying to overclock your processor. If you’re a computer geek and know how to overclock anything on your computer, you probably don’t have to read this article.

However, with more users opting to purchase custom PCs that are relatively cheap, it’s now possible for pretty much a novice to overclock a CPU just by picking a different setting in the BIOS.

I’ve previously written about the tools you can use to overclock your RAM, CPU, and GPU and a couple of tools you can use to benchmark your PC.

When overclocking, you want to keep a close eye on the temperature of your CPU. To find out your CPU temperature, you’ll need to download a third party program that can read the temperature on each core in the processor.

How to Check Your CPU Temperature

The easiest way to check your CPU temperature is to download Core Temp from Once you’ve downloaded the software, run the installer and then click the Launch Core Temp box. Finally, click Finish.

Once Core Temp is open, you can view your average CPU temperature by looking at the bottom right hand side of the window. You’ll be able to see the min and max values in Celsius. Below you’ll see what Core Temp looks like for an AMD processor and an Intel processor.

These values will change as you perform different tasks on your PC. For example, if you play a game or run a video editing program, the temperature of your CPU will rise. It’s completely normal to see these temperatures fluctuate very quickly.

A good way to test this is to download Prime95, exact the zip file and then run the EXE file. When the program opens, click on Just Stress Testing. Then go ahead and run a torture test and select the Blend option.

If you keep Core Temp open at the same time, within the few seconds, you will see the temps shoot up.

So, is there anything to worry about with those temperatures? Let’s discuss that in the next section.

Ideal CPU Temperature When Idle or During Gaming

Notice, above, that the temperatures are still well below the max of 100 degrees Celsius. The ideal CPU temperature will depend on the processor you own. Some processors may get hotter than others.

For the most part, you should aim to keep your temperature below 75 degrees Celsius when gaming or using software.

If your CPU goes above 75 degrees Celsius, you may start to notice a degradation in performance because your processor is limiting its capabilities to help cool itself down – this is known as thermal throttling. In the Core Temp app, you’ll notice that the frequency will drop from the max to a lower value when thermal throttling occurs.

As for idle temperature, as a general rule of thumb, anything between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius is considered ‘cool’. Your CPU should be within this region if it isn’t running any demanding programs.

Thankfully, modern processors are intelligently designed – you pose little risk to your hardware if higher temperatures are reached. If your temperatures do go too high, it will simply limit your overall performance, so it’s always best to keep things as cool as possible.

The only time things can go wrong is if you have an overclock-able processor (Intel processors that end in K) and you decide to manually adjust the voltage and frequency in the BIOS. In this case, you could do some real damage to the CPU or motherboard. In addition, Windows will almost certainly crash when the CPU gets too hot.

Luckily, Core Temp has an overheat protection feature. Click on Options and then Overheat Protection.

Check the Enable overheat protection box and pick from one of the three options. By default, it will automatically notify you when the critical temperature is reached. If you want to be extra safe, you can have the computer go to sleep, hibernate or shutdown too.

If you click on Options and then Settings, you can also make changes to how Core Temp monitors and displays CPU temperatures.

You can change the polling interval, display the temperature in Fahrenheit and even display a bunch of stats in your taskbar if you like.

Hopefully, this article gives you a little more insight into CPU temps and how you can monitor them using Core Temp. If you have any questions, post a comment. Enjoy!

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What is COM Surrogate in Windows 10 and Is It a Virus? Mon, 12 Mar 2018 19:10:24 +0000 Ollie Green]]> Have you ever noticed the COM Surrogate process in the Windows 10 task manager? I was browsing through the list of processes and noticed two of them running on my system. Understanding the different processes in task manager can be quite a challenge. I already wrote a detailed post on svchost.exe, which is a process […]

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Have you ever noticed the COM Surrogate process in the Windows 10 task manager? I was browsing through the list of processes and noticed two of them running on my system.

Understanding the different processes in task manager can be quite a challenge. I already wrote a detailed post on svchost.exe, which is a process that hosts different Windows services. There can easily be 10 to 15 of these running on your system at any given time.

In this article, I’ll give you a quick look at what COM Surrogate is in Windows 10 and whether you have to worry about it or not.

What is COM Surrogate?

COM Surrogate is one of those processes where you really have no idea of what it does by looking at it. It doesn’t have a custom icon and sits there without providing much information about what it does.

Sometimes, there are multiple COM Surrogate processes running at once. If you go to task manager, you’ll normally see two of them running.

If you right-click on either and choose Go to Details, you’ll see that the process name is actually dllhost.exe. You’ll also notice that the process runs under your username and not the System or Local Service or Network Service accounts.

Thankfully, COM Surrogate is not a virus (most of the time). It’s a legitimate Windows 10 process that runs in the background. It’s called dllhost because the process is hosting DLL files. That probably makes no sense, so let’s explain it in more detail.

Basically, Microsoft created an interface for developers to create extensions to programs called COM Objects. This is used for certain programs in Windows 10 also. For example, Windows Explorer has a COM object that allows it to create thumbnails for images and videos in a folder.

However, the big problem with these COM objects was that they would crash and bring the Explorer process down with it too. That meant your whole system would crash if a COM object failed for any reason.

To fix this issue, Microsoft came up with the COM Surrogate process that basically ran the COM object in a separate process than the one that requested it. So, in the Explorer example, the COM object would not run in the explorer.exe process, but instead in this newly created COM surrogate process.

Now, if the COM object crashed, it would only take out the COM Surrogate process and Explorer would continue running. Pretty smart, right?

Actually, if you download Process Explorer, you can see the COM object I am referring to above.

If you hover your mouse over the dllhost.exe entry, you can see the COM class is Microsoft Thumbnail Cache, which is the extension used to create the thumbnails in Explorer.

Can COM Surrogate Be a Virus?

There have been instances in the past where trojans and viruses have hidden in the Windows operating system by masking themselves as COM Surrogate and other Windows processes.

If you open task manager, right-click on the process and choose Open file location, you’ll be able to find the source location for the process.

If COM Surrogate process leads to a file called ‘dllhost’ in the C:\Windows\System32 folder, it’s unlikely to be a virus. If it leads elsewhere, you should run a virus scan immediately.

Usually, COM surrogate uses very little memory and CPU and there are only one or two instances of it running. If there are numerous dllhosts.exe processes or the process is eating up more than 1 to 2 percent of your CPU, I would suggest performing an offline virus scan, which can better detect tricky hidden viruses.

Hopefully, reading through this article has taught you a thing or two about COM Surrogate and Windows 10 background processes. Going forward, you should be less worried about seeing processes like this running in the background.

If you still have any questions, leave a comment and we’ll try to help. Enjoy!

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99 of the Best Windows Freeware Programs You May Not Know Of Mon, 12 Feb 2018 14:31:58 +0000 Aseem Kishore]]> Due to the popularity of my previous article on Help Desk Geek entitled 99 ways to make your computer blazingly fast, I’ve decided to write another list post with 99 items, but this time on Windows freeware programs that you may have not heard of. If you search for “best freeware programs” or “top freeware […]

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Due to the popularity of my previous article on Help Desk Geek entitled 99 ways to make your computer blazingly fast, I’ve decided to write another list post with 99 items, but this time on Windows freeware programs that you may have not heard of.

If you search for “best freeware programs” or “top freeware apps”, you’ll get lots of lists, but mostly with programs everyone has already heard of: AVG anti-virus, 7-zip, Firefox, OpenOffice, etc., etc.

That’s all nice and fine, but what about all those little gems programs that work great, but don’t get all the headlines? In this article, I will try my best to mention as many small name freeware programs as I can that can help make you more productive! It’s a long list, so feel free to bookmark it and refer to it later on.

These are written in no particular order! Again, I’m sure there are hundreds of programs that I won’t mention, so if you feel I’ve really missed a great program, mention the name of the app and what it does in the comments!

Additionally, some of the programs I mention have free versions that have a few restrictions or are limited in some way. I tried not to mention any programs that are just free trials.

Note: Lastly, it should be noted that I have gone through the entire list and run every executable file through VirusTotal (as of Feb 2018) to ensure that the programs do not have malware or spyware. 

1. We’ve all heard of 7-zip, WinRAR, and WinZip, but what about other great zipping programs like ZIP Archiver or PeaZip?

2. What’s the best Notepad replacement out there? Notepad++ right? We all know that! Here are nine more free text editors for Windows.

3. If you use Windows, then you know and love the Windows registry! CCleaner may be the most popular system maintenance tool out there, but what about…well, actually that’s the only one I recommend.

4. Ever accidentally delete a file that you really needed? You can try a program called Pandora Recovery to recover lost or deleted files or Recuva, a useful file recovery app. But that’s not all! Ever heard of TestDisk?

5. Speaking of file recovery, ever accidentally delete all the pictures off your memory card!? It happens more often than you would think. In those cases, check out my list of 5 photo recovery apps.

6. Ever forget your Outlook password? Or your password for a WiFi? If so, you can use some cool programs to reveal passwords and account details for various programs in Windows. You can also use these 10 programs to recover a lost PST password.

7. Speaking of passwords, have you ever needed to remove a password on an Office document like an Excel spreadsheet? There’ a program for that.

8. OK, so you have heard of Audacity, but it’s the best free audio editing program out there, so deal with it.

9. Speaking of audio, if you are into music, you can use LMMS to create your own music tracks.

10. Have an ISO image and older version of Windows that can’t mount ISO images? Check out WinCDEmu and create an unlimited number of virtual drives.

11. With all this password talk, ever thought about using a free password manager? Ever heard of KeePass or RoboForm?

12. Enough about passwords, let’s talk media players! We’ve all heard of VLC media player and Windows Media Player, but what about Kodi and Media Monkey? Both are great media players for Windows. Also, GOM Player is good too.

13. If you have to stare at your screen at night for a long time, it’s probably a good idea to use a program like f.lux to change the display color to something warmer.

14. If you take a lot of home videos, you probably need to edit and stitch them together right? Don’t worry about Adobe Premiere, you can use other free programs like Windows Movie Maker, a product from Microsoft. If not that, you can also check out LightWorks and HitFilm Express, two free professional-grade video editing programs.

15. Speaking of videos, there are many times when you need to convert from one format to another. The best video transcoder out there IMHO is HandBrake.

16. Is there a Windows process that is causing spikes in your CPU or other problems. Use Process Explorer and Process Monitor to help diagnose the issue.

17. Work with PDF files a lot? Looking for a good PDF reader? My favorites are Foxit, Nitro PDF Reader, and PDF-XChange Editor.

18. If you want to create PDFs fast, there are a bunch of programs like CutePDF, PrimoPDF, Bullzip, PDF Creator, and lots more!

19. Switching topics, I’m sure you back up your computer regularly right? If not, you should check out Easeus Todo Backup, a free program that lets you backup and clone your hard drives. Another program is Paragon Backup.

20. If you just want to backup your data and not image your entire hard drive, you can use Google Backup and Sync to backup files and folders to your Google Drive storage.

21. Whether you know it or not, you probably have a bunch of duplicate files on your computer! It just happens. You can use Duplicate Cleaner to find and remove those duplicate files.

22. If you want to save more hard drive space, you should look into a program that will analyze hard disk space usage, like TreeSize. Other programs include Space Sniffer and WinDirStat.

23. Want to see every possible program or driver that loads when Windows starts? Check out Autoruns, which is a free tool from Microsoft.

24. Been looking for a good free photo editor lately? Check out GIMP, PhotoScape, Paint.NET, or Fotor! If you prefer an online photo editor, checkout Pixlr and BeFunky.

25. Looking for detailed information about the hardware on your computer. Look no further than HWiNFO. It can also analyze and monitor your system too.

26. If you’re not running Windows 10 or don’t like their default Mail app, you can check out Mozilla Thunderbird, which is still updated regularly.

27. Ever had to send a large file to someone, but your email client wouldn’t allow more than 10 to 20 MBs? You can share large files (up to 2GB for free) with friends and family using a program called WeTransfer. Other programs include DropSend and pCloud.

28. The popular notes app we all know is Evernote, but there are other great options like SimpleNote, Google Keep, and Notebook.

29. If you have an FTP server or a website, you will probably need a good FTP client program like WinSCP, the most popular these days. Other  good options include FileZilla and CyberDuck.

30. If you’re paranoid about your data, you might want to encrypt it with a program like VeraCrypt or AxCrypt.

31. Are you a web developer or coder? Looking for a good HTML editor? There are quite a few: CoffeeCup, Visual Studio Express, Atom, Sublime Text, etc.

32. Want to learn more about the WiFi networks around you? Download WiFi Inspector or Acrylic WiFi Analyzer.

33. Ever wanted to create a family tree? Legacy is a free genealogy that you can use to keep track of family and relatives. Another good app is ScionPC.

34. If you constantly use the same programs over and over, it might be a good idea to download a quick program launcher. One of my favorites is Find and Run Robot.

35. OpenOffice is the most popular free Office suite, but there are other good ones like LibreOffice and WPS Office Free.

36. Ever wanted to automate a certain task in Windows? Maybe you want to have your computer turn off every day at 10pm? Or certain keystrokes you want to record and repeat over and over again? Whatever the case, AutoHotKey is an awesome program for automating many tasks in Windows.

37. I mentioned HWiNFO in #25, but if you want detailed info about your CPU and about the motherboard, then CPU-Z is a better option.

38. If you’re planning to overclock your CPU, then you should download Prime95 to make sure your system is stable. If you’re overclocking a GPU, check out MSI Afterburner.

39. Looking to secure your browsing traffic with a VPN? The best free VPN currently is TunnelBear, which restricts you to 500 MB of bandwidth.

40. In #14, I mentioned two professional and free movie editing programs, but they are quite complex. If you’re looking to create movies without such a learning curve, check out Shotcut, VSDC Free Video editor, and Avidemux.

41. Got kids? Need some parental control software? The best options are Qustodio and Kidlogger. Free versions are limited obviously. Also, read my post on the different ways to childproof a computer.

42. If you have a lot of music, you might want to consider a music management program like Media Monkey. Another good program is MusicBee.

43. I talked about a VPN for secure browsing in #39, but you can also use a different browser like Tor to hide your identify.

44. If you’ve recently bought a new computer, you can use a program called PC Decrapifier to get rid of all those useless programs that can come bundled with the PC and slow everything down.

45. After you have a computer for a while, there are always going to be programs that you don’t use anymore and that can be uninstalled. Revo Uninstaller will get rid of any program whether it wants to or not.

46. If you want to play some free games that aren’t Solitaire, download Steam. They have a whole free games section.

47. If you have sensitive data on your computer that you want to permanently and securely delete from your hard drive, I would suggest using a program called dBan.

48. Do a lot of reading? A great app for reading in Windows is the Kindle app. It will also sync down to your phone or tablet too.

49. Love using Instagram? Want to download a photo, video or story from Instagram? Check out 4K Stogram.

50. Looking for good screen capture software? A really good one is Screenshot Captor. Of course, Windows has a lot of built-in ways to capture screenshots too.

51. We’ve all heard of Skype and WhatsApp, but what about Viber? It’s another tool you can use to communicate with family and friends worldwide.

52. Ever wanted your computer to speak out what you have written? It’s called text-to-speech and there are a couple of good programs that do it: Balabolka, NaturalReader, and Panopreter.

53. Do you have a lot of programs that load when Windows starts? Does it take several minutes for your computer to become useable? If so, check out Startup Delayer, a program  that delays the startup of programs so that your computer loads faster.

54. Do you need to create a presentation, but don’t have PowerPoint? In addition to the Office suites we mentioned in #35, you can also use Canva and Prezi.

55. Follow a lot of blogs online and still miss Google Reader? RSSOwl is a good alternative.

56. You’ve all probably heard of TeamViewer for remotely sharing your desktop, but you can also use

57. Are you someone who prefers a supercharged Explorer interface? If so, check out Total Commander, which has been around for decades and works with Windows 10.

58. If you think you might have bad memory installed in your computer, you can check for bad memory using memtest86.

59. Want to record your screen and live stream it too? OBS Studio is a free app that does just that. TinyTake is another decent one, though the free version is limited.

60. Are you a professional photographer that needs tools like Lightroom, but don’t want to pay for a subscription? Darktable is an open-source photography workflow application.

61. Speaking of Adobe, are there any good Adobe Illustrator alternatives? Yes! One good one for working with vector graphics is Inkscape. Another good one is Vectr.

62. Are you someone who needs to write something, but gets distracted easily? Check out FocusWriter and write without distractions.

63. One of the worst things that can happen to your computer is for it to become infected with Spyware. HijackThis is an awesome program that you can use to find and remove spyware. However, it’s no longer active. Another good option is AdwCleaner.

64. On the topic of spyware, there are several other freeware programs like SUPERAntiSpyware, adaware, and SpyBot.

65. In addition to spyware and malware, there are also separate tools you can use to find rootkits like TDSSKiller, Sophos Rootkit scanner and Malwarebytes Anti-Rootkit.

66. Finally, if you’re not able to detect anything while in Windows, a good idea is to run an offline virus scan. One good option is Windows Defender Offline.

67. If you ever need a free CD/DVD/Blu-ray disc burning program, check out CDBurnerXP. It also has a portable version you can run off your USB stick. Another good one is AVS Free Disc Creator.

68. If you ever need to burn an ISO image to a CD or DVD, then you should use a free program like ImgBurn.

69. Are you a true nerd and still use IRC? If so, HexChat is an excellent IRC client.

70. Ever run into the problem where you are trying to delete a file in Windows and it says that the file is in use and cannot be deleted? You can use Unlocker to delete any file that is locked by a process.

71. Are you always thinking about stuff? Then you should probably use some free mind-mapping software. Wikipedia also has a big list of mind-mapping software.

72. Need to manage a small project, but need some project management software? Check out GnattProject and

73. If you want to play around with virtual machines, download the free and excellent VirtualBox from Oracle. It’s the safest way to browse and test new software.

74. In #19 and #20, I talked about software to backup your computer, but forgot to mention DriveImage XML, an good program you can use to create an image of your hard drive. Other good disk imaging tools include MacriumReflect and Clonezilla.

75. Need some accounting & finance software, but don’t trust the online tools like Mint and Quickbooks? GNUCash is free accounting and finance software.

76. Ever head of Blender? It’s a pretty amazing program and it’s free. It lets you create 3D worlds, 3D animations and 3D games. Check it out.

77. If Blender is too complex for you, another great option for sketching in 3D is SketchUp.

78. While we’re on the topic, FreeCAD is open-source parametric 3D CAD modeler.

79. For space lovers, I always recommend Stellarium, which is basically a planetarium for your computer.

80. Looking for a really good partition manager? Check out GParted, probably the best not-heard-of partition manager out there. Other good options include MiniTool Partition Wizard and EaseUs Partition Master Free.

81. Looking for a file on your computer? Default Windows search sucks? Well, why don’t you try out Everything, the best free Windows file search tool.

82. Wish your clipboard could store more than one item at a time? Well you should check out ClipX, ArsClip and Ditto clipboard, three cool clipboard manager programs.

83. DropIt is a nifty little Windows program that lets you “drop” files onto a folder, which will then process the file according to your settings.

84. Remote desktop is great for Windows computers, but for other platforms you’ll need something like TightVNC or UltraVNC.

85. Got a spare computer with some extra storage on it? You can turn it into a NAS device using a program called FreeNAS.

86. Since we’re talking about only Windows freeware programs, you might be interested in Disk2VHD, a program from Microsoft that will let you convert your current PC into a virtual machine that you can then load into Hyper-V.

87. Want to learn a new language? The best program for Windows in my view is Duolingo.

88. Ever had to split a large file into a couple of pieces? If so, check out GSplit, a nifty utility for splitting and re-joining files.

89. Been in a situation where you needed to compare two files and see the differences? WinMerge is a cool program that will let you compare and merge two files. It hasn’t been updated since 2013, but a new version should be coming this year.

90. Need to send ultra-private and secure messages from Windows? Your best option is Telegram Messenger.

91. Or what about merging multiple PDF files together? If so, check out PDFtk, a toolkit that lets you merge, split, and repair PDF files.

92. For the network geeks out there, you have to try Spiceworks at home to really monitor what’s happening on the network. For the really tech-savvy folks, get Wireshark.

93. Want to print something at your parents’ house from your house half-way across the country? Check out PrinterShare.

94. Worried that the data you have saved in the Cloud with Google, Microsoft, etc. can be hacked? Encrypt it all with Boxcryptor.

95. Ever needed to figure out the RGB value or hexadecimal value of a color that is on your computer screen? ColorPic is a nice utility that lets you determine the hexadecimal RGB color for anything on your screen.

96. If you have a lot of MP3 files, you probably need to edit the tags and metadata so that everything shows up properly in iTunes or your music manager app. You can use MP3tag or TagScanner to edit MP3 tags.

97. If you have more than one monitor, you can use a program like Dual Monitor Tools to customize each monitor to your liking.

98. Wish you could use Find My iPhone with all your other non-Apple devices? Prey might just be the answer.

99. One of the best ways to keep your computer secure is to make sure all the software is updated. SUMo does this for you. Other good options are FileHippo App Manager and Personal Software Inspector.

Whew! That was probably way more than a hundred freeware programs, but hope you enjoyed it. I’m sure there are lots of great programs I missed, so if you have a favorite freeware app, add it to the list via the comments. If you like the list, bookmark it! Enjoy!

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DVRs You Can Use Without Needing a Cable Subscription Thu, 08 Feb 2018 19:32:19 +0000 Aseem Kishore]]> I stopped paying for cable about 6 months back and I have to say that I’m really happy. I’ve always been one of those people who thought cable was absolutely necessary and always ponied up the $100 or so to have about 300 or so channels. However, over time I realized I only watch a […]

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I stopped paying for cable about 6 months back and I have to say that I’m really happy. I’ve always been one of those people who thought cable was absolutely necessary and always ponied up the $100 or so to have about 300 or so channels. However, over time I realized I only watch a few channels here and there and a lot of the stuff I was watching was via iTunes, Netflix, or Amazon Prime video anyway. Did I really need a cable connection for just CNN, ESPN and a few local channels?

Well, for some live TV events it’s great: Oscars, news, etc., etc. However, I could watch all of that anyway without my cable box! I never knew until I read an article somewhere that there is something called Over the Air (OTA) channels. These are all HD channels that are broadcast for free. This includes channels like ABS, CBS, NBC, Fox, and lots more. So I was really excited that I could watch just about everything I wanted anyway without the cable box.

The only issues I had were the program guide and the recording of shows! Now that the cable box was gone, I had no DVR and I had no program guide. The other issue with antennas is that not all areas get all local channels. Luckily, using an online DVR service solves all of these problems. Secondly, most of these services now include local channels in their packages, so you don’t have to worry about antennas and having a dedicated hardware DVR.

In this article, I’ll go through some of the big players in the online DVR space as well as mention a couple of companies that still sell good hardware DVRs. If you don’t have a great Internet connection, a physical box DVR that can be used offline at all times might be a better option.


TiVo has been around for a long time and were the first people to give us the DVR (at least a good one that worked well). What I like about TiVo’s lineup of devices is that they are geared towards those who have a cable subscription and those who want to use HD antennas.

The device above in the screenshot is the TiVo Roamio OTA 1TB DVR, which sells for $399. Now that may sound like a steep price, but you have to remember that there are no monthly service fees. Previously, they used to charge $15 a month for getting the channel lineup, etc., but now they have gotten rid of the fee.

It also acts kind of like the new Apple TV in that you can use it to search for movies and TV shows across your OTA channels and any video streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon, etc. The device will allow you to record up to 150 hours of HD content. It also has 4 tuners on the back, so you can record up to 4 programs at once. They also have a great mobile app that allows you to control the device and recordings from your phone or tablet. You can also watch your recordings on your mobile device.

I won’t talk about their cable box options as I’m assuming you don’t want cable if you are reading this post. Overall, TiVo is still a great option if you get clear HD local channels over-the-air. If not, check out the other services below.

Sling TV

Sling TV has also been around for a long time and they are the biggest live TV streaming service in the country. Sling is also supported on pretty much every streaming device out there, so you’ll have no issue watching your channels.

Currently, they have two packages: orange and blue. Orange is $20 a month and includes 30 channels, blue is $25 a month and includes 45 channels. What I like about Sling, though, is that they have a whole lot of other channels and extras that you can add for additional monthly fees. Some are $5 a month, some are more. Also, they have a slew of international channels that you can add too for extra.

Obviously, this can get quite expensive if you add a lot of stuff, but you get to pick and choose and can change your channel lineup whenever you like. Sling also has a simple to use Cloud DVR feature for recording shows and movies.

The only downside I have seen to Sling is that you need to make sure your area is in the list of markets where they stream local channels like NBC, etc. Unfortunately, not all markets can get all local channels. Check out this link to see what local channels Sling offers in your area.

Additionally, if you go with the orange service, you only get one stream. If you go with blue, you get 3 streams. If you get both orange and blue, you get 4 simultaneous streams.

YouTube TV

The new player on the market is YouTube TV, which gives you 40+ channels for $35 a month. Google is king of the cloud and their big selling point is their awesome DVR service. They also include all the local channels (ABS, CBS, NBC, Fox) in the service, which is a great.

You’ll first need to check whether or not the service is available in your area. Just start signing up for a free trial and it’ll ask for your zip code or auto-determine your location. It’ll then tell you whether or not you can sign up.

Also, you can create up to six different accounts per household and everyone will have their personalized settings and separate DVR. There are no limits to how many programs you can record. Google will keep each recording for up to 9 months. You can only stream within the United States, though, currently.

You can have up to three simultaneous streams at once per membership. So, three out of the six accounts can stream at the same time. Lastly, YouTube Red is not included in the YouTube TV membership, but you can watch YouTube Red Originals. YouTube TV does also include on-demand programs, depending on the channel.

DirecTV Now

Next up is DirecTV Now, which ranges from $35 to $70 a month, is a bit more expensive, but gives you access to up to 120 channels. You also have access to 25,000+ on-demand titles.

The big downside with DirecTV Now is that it currently doesn’t have any DVR functionality, which is kind of a big deal! Apparently, this will be coming soon, but as of the writing of this post, there is no DVR.

The other downside is that you can only have 2 simultaneous streams per account. You can add HBO for $5 a month whereas it costs a whopping $15 a month on Sling. If you are an AT&T wireless customer and you have DirecTV at home, then you get free access to HBO anyway.

The big plus for DirecTVNow is that you are getting a lot more channels than the competition. Once they add DVR, it’ll be a close call between the different options.

PlayStation Vue

Another option is PlayStation Vue, which is actually quite a good service. Vue tries to be a more all-encompassing service, kind of like DirecTV Now. The price starts at $40 a month for about 38 channels and goes all the way up to $75 a month with over 90 channels, the latter of which includes HBO and Showtime.

You get all the local channels, as long as they are available in your area. You can also watch all the local channels on your mobile device as long as you are within the city. They have a decent Cloud DVR feature and allow up to 5 simultaneous streams.

The service you end up going with will depend on what kind of TV you like to watch and what your needs are. If you need international channels, then Sling TV is the best option. If you mostly care about local channels, you can just get a Tivo and an HD antenna. If you have a lot of people who will be streaming at the same time, then PlayStation Vue or Sling with both color services is a good option. There are lots of options out there, so take your time when choosing.

The other great thing about pretty much all of these services is that you can cancel at any time. Also, most of them have free trials, so give them a shot for a week and see which one you like the best. Enjoy!

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