Langa Letter: Favorite Tools, Utilities, And Add-Ons - InformationWeek
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Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: Favorite Tools, Utilities, And Add-Ons

What ''must have'' software do you install on your PC? Here's Fred Langa's list of his personal favorites.

Fred's Current Favorite Windows Tools And Add-Ons
Firewalls: One of the very first add-ons I install when setting up a new PC is a good desktop firewall, even though my systems run behind a router and/or NAT tool that helps shield them from outside attack. As we discussed in "How Much Protection Is Enough?" I believe in a multilayered defense strategy. Plus, desktop firewalls also can help guard against some worms, Trojans, and "phone home" malware that routers and external firewalls cannot.

There are many acceptable firewalls, but the three I use most on my own PCs are ZoneAlarm Pro and the standard ZoneAlarm and Sygate Personal Firewall.

I also use Windows XP's built-in firewall on simple test setups and inside Virtual PCs, but I generally find it too anemic for serious use, and harder to configure than the ZoneAlarm and Sygate alternatives.

More firewall info is available here.

A reliable, robust antivirus tool is an essential part of safe computing today--it's just plain nuts to run without AV protection. There are myriad tools available but I find myself coming back to the same three:

The first two are commercial, the latter has a lightweight free version for personal use; all protect against malicious downloads and E-mail.

NOD32 repeatedly scores at the top of independent virus detection and cleaning tests. Its antivirus database is updated every day, and the software can be configured to self-update every 24 hours. Because the updates are frequent, the downloads are small and take just a few seconds. NOD32 is a little harder to configure than the others, but overall is a truly outstanding AV tool.

Symantec/Norton's AV is ubiquitous, both as a standalone tool and as a component of various Symantec security suites. Symantec produces updates on a regular basis, though not usually every day; and by default, the AV software only phones home for AV updates once a week. You can change this, and manually download and install AV updates, but the built-in interval is a bit long in the fast-moving world of malware attacks. Otherwise, Symantec/Norton AV works acceptably well; it's largely self-configuring, and the newer versions usually do a good job of integrating into a PC's E-mail system for transparent, automatic filtering of both inbound and outbound E-mail.

Grisoft's AVG does a credible job of protecting the PC's files and E-mail, but it offers fewer options than the others. (The paid version is more flexible than the free.) I believe AVG is a perfectly acceptable AV package, but also believe the others, above, are a bit better.

E-Mail And Antispam
I currently get more than 7,000 E-mails a day--approaching 3 million E-mails a year--and so absolutely depend on E-mail filters and antispam tools to help me find the wheat in the flood of E-mail chaff that arrives each day.

Eudora is my primary E-mail tool. Although recent versions have some disappointing stability issues, its built-in filters do a good job of not only detecting and discarding spam, but also identifying, sorting, and auto-responding to a variety of valid mail. Eudora is at the heart of my online newsletter operation, for example.

Spamnix adds advanced rule-based and Bayesian filters to Eudora's decent built-in tools; used together Eudora and Spamnix sort the spam to the side, and organize the rest of my valid E-mail, even auto-responding to a large percentage of that; leaving me with a relatively small percentage of E-mails each day--several hundred--that require human intervention and response. Without these tools, my E-mail would be unmanageable.

I do use Microsoft Outlook Express for several disposable and recreational E-mail accounts. But I entrust no business mail to Outlook Express and usually simply discard most of the mail that arrives in those mailboxes, unread.

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