Clear Windows junk files with Freemium System Utilities

Free System Utilities is a complete software suite to clean up Windows temporary data and securely wipe single files, the one click maintenance window gives you quick access to eliminating obsolete registry keys, deleting Windows temporary files, fixing invalid shortcuts to non present programs, removing Windows start up entries, finding spyware and erase Internet browsing and computer activities tracks from anyone who can get access to your computer, the traces eraser supports Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome browser.

The data shredding window does not tell you what method is used to wipe files, a file encryption program in the same tab can scramble files but again you are not given any information about what Freemium System Utilities is using to secure your data, there is a splitting program to reduce huge files but I did not find it particularly valuable since the  receiving end will need to have Freemium System Utilities installed to join the split file, it is much better using a widely known program like Winrar or WinZip to split and send files.

Freemium Free System Utilities
Freemium Free System Utilities

Computer knowledgeable people might want to look into the “Improve Performance” tab inside the Manage Processes option where you are shown what programs are running in your computer and what they do in real time, selecting one of the processes will give you all sorts of information like process ID and the module .dll the program has access to, this can be useful to troubleshoot malware infections, at the click of a button you can end or block a process. The cleaning scan is quickly performed in a few minutes, with speed depending on hardware specs, a progress bar shows you the estimated termination time, you will be asked if you would like to create a restore point before erasing the files. You can choose to keep specific browser cookies, like those not tracking your online behaviour and simply storing search or email settings, to do that go into Options inside “Erase Tracks” and use the Cookie Manager checkbox to untick the appropriate cookie.

The eraser gets rid of traces left in all Windows operating systems, like recently opened documents, start menu run programs, clipboard data, Microsoft Wordpad opened files, Windows Media Player list of played files, and Internet Explorer index.dat. Optionally you can choose not to erase some of thraces by going into Select Tracks>Options and unticking the appropriate box, you can schedule the software to automatically clean your computer temporary files without having to remember it yourself. This tool packs plenty of cleaning utilities to keep your computer running faster, the developer could improve the hard to spot tabs at the bottom of the main window taking you to other different cleaning options, it took me a while to realise that the tabs were clickable since they all have similar colouring to the background.

This is a very basic privacy tool since temporary files are not securely wiped but only erased, which means that they are recoverable with specialist unerase programs but still a good freeware to regain computer hard drive space and optimize Windows speed, Freemium System Utilities managed to find over 500MB of useless temporary files I had lying around.

Visit Freemium System Utilities homepage

Add a Start Menu to Windows 8 with ClassicShell

It can be hard for Windows 8 users to manage the new Microsoft UI (User Interface), the developers decided to eliminate the Start button that all other previous Windows versions had and there is no way to reverse those changes from within Windows. To launch an app in Windows 8 you have to type in the name in the search box, it can not be selected with the mouse.

Classic Shell is a free open source project to introduce old Windows applications, you can have a Windows 8 Start button with its full menu, the application is not Windows 8 specific it works in older Windows versions helping users customize the operating system, Classic Shell is very well documented on its website.

ClassicShell Windows8 Start button
ClassicShell Windows8 Start button

This application supports skins to make your Windows OS look unique,  one skin called XP Luna can make any Windows version look like Windows XP, menus and submenus can be modified and Windows boot up time can be speed up with the settings dialogue turning off icon preloading and features that aren’t used.

There are other applications like Start8 from Stardock that can reinstate Windows Start Menu in Windows 8 but they are not free and Classic Shell is, Start8 is more polished, it looks better integrated with the menu but Classic Shell has more options besides adding a Start button, with this alternative you can save a few bucks, it can be uninstalled like any other program if you are not happy with it.

Visit Classic Shell homepage

List of the best Netvibes alternatives

My Yahoo: Custom start page from where to read your favourite news sites, you can add gadgets to quickly check email, see the weather forecast, add notes and much more, Yahoo is one of the personalized homepages with most customization options.

My Yahoo startpage
My Yahoo startpage

BackStitch: Still in beta testing, it can be easily integrated with Twitter and Facebook feeds, you get the usual customizable divisions with RSS feeds that can be moved around and tabs to switch in between topics.

BackStich custom homepage
BackStich custom homepage

Symbaloo: Personal internet desktop with dozens of widgets, you can easily switch in between the web mixes using the tabs. Most of the widgets are a collection of links to websites relevant to the subject, a great way to discover new sites.

Symbaloo custom startpage
Symbaloo custom startpage

uStart: Drag and drop gadgets that include weather forecast and calendar, easy to customize, just like with Netvibes you can add your own RSS feeds or choose the ready made newsfeeds from the most popular sites.

uStart home page Netvibes alternative
uStart home page Netvibes alternative

Spaaze: Virtual cork board where to add notes, snippets, task lists and simple home pages, everything looks like a notice board and the notes mimic real paper, you can drag and drop them anywhere you like, even the cork board can be scrolled down.

Spaaze start page
Spaaze start page

Monitor CPU temperature with Open Hardware Monitor

The Open Hardware Monitor is a free open source tool to monitor your computer’s sensors shedding details on CPU (Central Processing Unit) temperature, fan speed, voltages, load and clock speeds, the software can be run in portable mode and doesn’t need installation, only administrator rights.

An overheated CPU can result in unexplained system crashes and reboots, a modern computer will shut down before your CPU burns but it won’t let you know why. Luckily all computer processors carry sensor monitoring. Their maximum temperature will depend on brand and model, it can be found written on its body or help manual if you bought the CPU separately and installed it yourself, the only other way to find out a CPU maximum running temperature is to check the manufacturer’s website.

Open Hardware Monitor CPU temperature
Open Hardware Monitor CPU temperature

If you notice your CPU is overheating make sure to clean all dirt and dust from the fan vents, place the computer in a ventilated room/space with nothing obstructing the airflow (e.g. wall close to the vents), enhance case airflow adding more or better fans and double check that fans run as they should at the correct RPM (Revolutions Per Minute). Unless your computer comes fitted with wide cooling capacity, probably not the budget laptops, during the hottest Summer days while running high load applications like games and graphic or video editors will inevitably overheat the computer with the only viable solution being finding an air conditioned room,

Open Hardware Monitor supports all the latest processors (Intel Core 2, Core i3/i5/i7, Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and AMD), GPU sensors for Nvidia and ATI/AMD, hard drives SMART sensors and SSD wear levelling as well as reading fan controllers. Data reads are published to the Windows Management Instrumentation allowing other applications to display and make use of the information.

Visit Open Hardware Monitor homepage

Review free USA VPN Cocoon

Although they do not mention the word VPN anywhere on their site it works pretty close to what a VPN service does, Cocoon sits in between your ISP and the website you would like to visit and and handles the data requests back and forward hiding your real computer IP, the benefits are that nobody can see your real location, except by Cocoon, and websites believe you are in the same country that Cocoon servers are, the USA, bypassing  geolocation blocking used by online TV and music sites.

In addition Cocoon will also block all advertisements and relay your data through an encrypted tunnel, an ideal tool to secure yourself at public Wifi hotspots where anyone with a packet sniffer could see what websites you visit and grab your passwords. The downside is that it only works with Firefox and Internet Explorer, installing a toolbar. And although Cocoon blocks websites advertisements they serve you their own ads, that is how they finance themselves. Cocoon adverts come in the form of small video clips right in the middle of a new tab, they appear at random times, not very frequently and bearable in my experience but impossible to skip.

Free USA VPN Cocoon
Free USA VPN Cocoon

I was impressed with their download speed, tested from Europe I achieved 8Mbps downstream and 0.5Mbps upstream, you should be able to watch high definition video with that. I tested for Geoblocking at Hulu, Pandora, CWTV and Slacker radio, they all worked and I was able to watch USA TV from abroad for free.

It appears to be a service targeted at computer beginners, easy to configure, you just need to install a toolbar, they avoid technical language and the account interface is really neat. You can upgrade to their premium service and get rid of their publicity while you surf, Cocoon isn’t expensive but they are not a real VPN either, only your web browser is protected whereas a VPN will protect all of your outgoing connections, including mail clients and filesharing. If you are willing to pay I would go for a real VPN I would try VPN4All instead of Cocoon VPN pseudoservice, you could combine both services, get a cheap VPN with bandwidth limits and use Cocoon free service for online video streaming, saving your VPN account bandwidth. Privacy wise, Cocoon will store a list of visited sites on their central server, visible from within your account, they claim that everything is encrypted and only you have access to the data but if someone where to get hold of your password they would have access too, in order to change these settings you will need a paid for account, few settings can be changed in the free version.

As a content creator I also think that this has to be one of the most hypocrite companies I have come across, on the one hand they block websites adverts, like the ones found here, and deny sites from revenue they deserve while they show users their own intrusive adverts, it sounds like do as I say not like I do, other than that, a nice alternative to HotSpotShield, and it is available for the iPhone and iPad too.

Visit Cocoon VPN homepage

Create a digital photo mosaic with Mosaizer Pro

Mosaizer is a free application able to create digital photo mosaics, an image composed of  thousands of small ones, using the photographs of your choice. The software is very configurable, it has a multilingual interace and it comes with different skins.  Mosaizer has professional features but it is easy to use for beginners with the default options, its tabbed interface keeps it free of cluttered buttons, a wizard will guide you through the process of selecting a photograph, setting the pixel count and number of image tiles, the processed image can be previewed in the “Mosaic result” tab before deciding if saving it or changing settings and looks.

Projects can be saved for web publishing or printing, files can be exported as .bmp, .jpg, .png, .ico, .gif, .wmf and .emf.

Mosaizer digital photo mosaic freeware
Mosaizer digital photo mosaic freeware

You can download extra picture libraries from Mosaizer website, they have been optimized for photo mosaic creation, a wide range of photo themes is available, the program is extremely fast with accurate colour matching, the tools it has, colorizing, blending, brightness, contrast, saturation and others, allow you for far more creativity of what other photo mosaic applications offer.

Final images will look photo realistic but do not confuse this tool with a full fledged photo editor it is only a nice addition to have for those who want to create a special and unique art creation with minimum effort, maybe a collage of your wedding photos, or the kids day trip, they would make for a worthy personalised present.

Visit Mosaizer Pro homepage

Bitser, the free alternative to WinZip

Bitser is a free compression utility similar to WinZip, WinRar and 7Zip, it can extract .zip, .zipx, .7z, .rar, .bzip2 and many others, it can only create .zip, .7zip and self-extracting .exe files, including a checksum verification tab where to scrutinise file integrity (MD5/SHA-1/SHA-256) making sure that the file has not been corrupted or tampered with. During installation you will be asked if you would like to add Bitser to Windows Explorer context menu (right click menu), this is optional but I would recommend it because most Internet downloads come in a compressed format and you are likely to use it.

Its huge tabbed interface is what makes Bitser different from the competition, this is a beginner friendly program ideal for seniors who have never used a computer, what Bitser lacks in features it makes up in simplicity of use, the five tabs it has, “Create“, “Manage“, “Reports“, “Passwords” and “Options” are accessible within a couple of clicks, the program can be used as a password manager too, creating a Notepad like .bpw storage file encrypted with AES128 that can not be compared with specialist password manager software like KeePass but it does the job and those who know nothing about computers will feel at home using it.

Free WinZip alternative Bitser
Free WinZip alternative Bitser

My personal experience teaching older people how to use computers is that as soon as they see it is too much trouble to learn something they give up as they do not even understand how important it is to use a different password for each site, Bitser helps to overcome people’s willingness to learn by allowing them to perform all they need without reading any manual.

Bitser underlying compression function is implemented using 7Zip open source software, a well established project, if you are an advanced user you will be better off with 7Zip but if you need something beginner friendly for someone who has no interest in computers Bitser can be the tool that will introduce them into file compression, backups and encryption, I would also be happy to use this tool for my own backups considering how easy it is to create them and the added encryption, there is a detailed help manual in case you need it, lacking screenshots but very well explained.

Visit Bitser homepage