Spybot - Search & Destroy 1.6.2


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Spybot - Search & Destroy has been in the antispyware game for a long time offering features we've come to expect in the best apps in the category, but bugs and false positives make it difficult to recommend.

The program checks your system against a comprehensive database of adware and other system invaders. It also features several interface improvements, including multiple skins for dressing up its appearance. Scan results now appear arranged by groups in a tree, and a sliding panel lets you instantly view information about a selected item to help you decide whether to kill it or not. The Immunize feature blocks a plethora of uninvited Web-borne flotsam before it reaches your computer. Other useful tools, including Secure Shredder, complement the program's basic functionality for completely destroying files. Hosts File blocks adware servers from your computer, and System Startup lets you review which apps load when you start your computer.

Unfortunately, the program has the tendency to lock up at times and even during the install process for this review, we encountered several errors. The ambitious feature list and functionality make Spybot a good choice for those in search of a second antispyware program, and recent updates have made it run faster. It still makes errors in flagging spyware that isn't, and overall there are others in the category that do a better job.

Operating system: Windows Vista, Windows 95, Windows Me, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 98

FLV Player 2.0.25

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Most people don't need anything more than a Web browser and a Macromedia plug-in to watch Flash videos. However, if you want a hair's breadth more control over your viewing, this open-source freeware program will do the trick.

FLV Player's exceedingly simple controls allow you to navigate backward and forward through videos and play them in a loop. You can also adjust the volume, mute it, and adjust the size of the player. The Settings menu provides some basic control over program behavior, such as opening a new player window when double-clicking on an FLV file and remembering previous settings. And that's about it.

Our only major complaint is that the display window doesn't automatically resize to the size of your movie frame. We hope this problem will be remedied in future versions. FLV Player isn't a must-have by any stretch, but it's a decent tool for penny-pinching Flash developers.

Operating system: Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 2000

Avast Professional Edition 4.8.1351


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Avast Professional Edition skillfully scans your PC and several programs for viruses, although configuring it is not for the faint of heart.

Immediately after installation, the program asks if you want to schedule an antivirus scan of your local hard drives at system start. You'll notice two icons in your system tray after installing Avast: one to configure the functions and another to activate the virus recovery database.

Well-designed, Avast scans executables, inbound and outbound e-mails, and P2P programs such as Kazaa, Limewire, and Morpheus. Instant messages received from several messenger programs are inspected for harmful viruses as well. The program was able to block URLs and common file operations such as renaming and deleting. We appreciated the sensitivity adjusters to get protection to desired levels including normal, high, or customized.

We must say this application did slow down our system while surfing and using other programs. Many of its configurations require intermediate know-how or better. Fortunately, it has a generous 60-day trial. Don't let the steep learning curve turn you off; Avast safeguards your system at optimum levels.

Price: Free to try (60-day trial); $39.95 to buy

Operating system: Windows Vista, Windows 95, Windows Me, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 98

TeamViewer 4.1.6597

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TeamViewer is an excellent screen-sharing and file-transfer app that can be used to facilitate business collaborations as well as helping distraught relatives diagnose and cure computer problems. Along with being free for noncorporate use, it gives users precisely the tools they need to share screens securely, send files with a minimum of hassle, control access rights, and even flip which user has control.

The options available while you're in control work smoothly. You can maximize the pane that the other computer's screen is visible in, as well as utilize several smart options from a drop-down toolbar in the center of the window. A big X lets you close the connection, while the Actions button lets you switch whose in control, disable remote input, and reboot remotely. The View menu hides options to adjust the screen resolution, the optimization toward speed or quality, and control multiple-monitor displays.

When you log in, you're given an access code and a password. Sharing those allows your computer to be controlled by the level you set it to: remote support, presentation, file transfer, or VPN. The TeamViewer servers remember which computers you've connected to, so reconnecting to previously shared computers happens faster. TeamViewer also has a Web-based version, for remote connecting to home from public computer. Even the installation process is impressive. Users can toggle admin rights, can opt out of running at startup, and can opt into installing the TeamViewer VPN driver for more secure screensharing. Overall, TeamViewer makes screensharing and file-sharing as fluid and unobtrusive as it should be.


Operating system: Windows 2003, Windows Vista, Windows Me, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows NT, Windows 98

PhotoScape 3.4


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Add another name to the roster of feature-rich freeware image editors: PhotoScape. Although it eats and leaks about as much memory as Firefox, this editor is perfect for those making the jump between JPEG and am-pro dSLR work.

It supports RAW, as well as all other major image formats from JPEG and PNG to animated GIFs. It comes with prebuilt templates for users to create photo collages, fumetti, and Web comics, and has a standard set of red-eye removal, light/shadow, and contrast-editing features. One warning about the RAW processing: although it looks like you can drag and drop, the converter doesn't change RAW to JPEG unless you load the RAW file from within the native file navigator. It's a minor bug, but one that can lead you to believe that there's no RAW support at all. You can also batch edit images, combine them, and print them out one at a time or several at once.

The program loads fast and possesses an interface completely different from those familiar with Adobe's industry-leading tools. Users are greeted by circular navigator complemented by a tabbed nav on the top of the main screen. Most but not all main features are accessible from either nav. It might take some people time to get used to the unusual layout, but it's only unusual for an image editor; otherwise it's intuitive, fast, and lacks only the most advanced of image editing features

Operating system: Windows Vista, Windows 95, Windows Me, Windows XP, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows 98

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 8.5.406

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This antivirus program offers rock-solid protection. AVG Free provides the bare necessities, including a real-time shield to prevent infections, anti-virus and anti-malware wrapped up in one engine, and a link scanner for Web surfing with care.

By default, the application is set to search for new virus definitions daily, but you always can use the scheduling tool to change this. Should a virus create serious system problems, AVG creates a rescue disk to scan your computer in MS-DOS mode. The program doesn't tax your system when scanning or when running in the background and always proved effective in our tests. The new interface is much easier to navigate than in previous version, with tabbed navigation on the left assisting users in drilling down to the tools they need.

Though the free version of this program will suffice for average folks, those who demand more control should certainly consider AVG Anti-Virus Professional.


Operating system: Windows Vista, Windows 2000, Windows XP

Avira AntiVir Personal - Free Antivirus


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Consistently at or near the top of independent efficacy testers, Avira's AntiVir remains one of the best freeware security solutions around. Its scans are flexible, allowing the user to fully scan both internal and external hard drives, run a preloaded scan--for rootkits, for example--or customize a scan. The latest version introduces antispyware protections, scanning tech that can crack open "locked" files, improved internal security to prevent AntiVir's files from being maliciously altered, and one-click threat removal--no more baby-sitting.

There are few interface changes in version 9, and older users are not likely notice anything different in the interface besides a refreshed banner logo. The main window offers a left side navigation with drop-down menus and a central pane for more detailed information. AntiVir opens to the Status menu, informing you of your last scan, your last definition file update, whether the real-time guard is active, and premium upgrade link. Events logs changes to the program and the Reports tab keeps a history of threats. Both are exportable.

The Local Protection and Administration navigation options reveal the Scanner, Guard, Quarantine, and Scheduler features. Combined with the Configuration button located at the top of the central pane, users can customize their scans as necessary. Quarantined file information is on display, with options to scan it again, restore, delete, and e-mail the file to Avira. The rebuilt heuristic engine retains the same choices from the previous version's, and can be turned on or off in part or in full and offers three intensity levels. The scheduler offers much that other free antivirus programs don't, and the help features are excellent, with mouse-over information on each feature.

Savvy users will notice the removal of the on-demand e-mail scan, and AntiVir is still challenging to fully uninstall. Despite these hang-ups and the nag screen that follows definition file updates, AntiVir offers such effective protection and a well-rounded set of features that as long as the updates keep coming, it'll be our first line of defense.


Operating system: Windows Vista 64-bit, Windows Vista 32-bit, Windows 2000, Windows XP